ATM scams

Beating the ATM criminals

Every day in the UK, ATMs are used more than 10 million times, with a staggering £189 withdrawn billion last year.

ATM’s are extremely safe to use, and the vast majority of the 3.6+ billion visits to them last year were incident free.

However, ATMs can be a target for criminals. To guard against the emotional and financial stress of being defrauded, there are a few simple steps you can take.

Former police officer Tony Blake specialises in payment card crime, and sees first-hand the common tactics employed by ATM fraudsters. Below, he offers his advice on how to stay safe. 

Tony Blake is a former police officer who currently works for the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU) and Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK). Tony educates people about just how vigilant they need to be to prevent card fraud happening to them. Through a range of programs, Tony helps to proactively raise awareness and prevent Fraud.

ATM Fraud - what to look out for

What are the criminals doing?

We see two main methods used by fraudsters to target ATMs – skimming and card trapping.

In a skimming attack, a criminal fits a small device in the card slot of the ATM. This little gadget captures the data from the magnetic stripe on the back of a bank card. Having also copied the PIN using a concealed camera, the fraudster puts this stolen bank card data onto the magnetic stripe of another card – a mobile phone top-up card, for example – which is then used to make cash withdrawals, usually overseas.

Card trapping occurs when a device fitted to the card slot prevents your card from being returned to you. Once you’ve left the machine, the fraudster prises the device off, taking your card.

How to stay safe

Working in our police unit for many years, I’ve seen that the devices fraudsters use are getting smaller and the criminals are getting cleverer.

But the key bit of information the fraudsters need remains the same – your PIN. Without this, they can’t spend your money.

As mentioned, the criminals usually try to get your PIN by fitting a small video camera which overlooks the keypad, cleverly disguising it to look like part of the machine. I’ve taken a fake ATM out and about to shopping centres to raise awareness of these scams, and people are often amazed to see that a hidden camera is fitted. So it’s important to be wary of this, as well as people looking over your shoulder.

The best way to protect yourself? Cover your PIN.

When I was a policeman, I spent many hours observing this sort of crime in an effort to catch these criminals. I was always surprised by how many people didn’t hide their PIN.

Whenever you’re at a cash machine, try to use your fingers to conceal your PIN from any prying eyes or cameras.

If your card is trapped in a machine, you might think there’s been a problem and you can just come back the following day to get your card back. But of course as soon as you leave, the criminal returns to the machine and takes your bank card.

It’s therefore really important that you have the help number on the back of your card saved to your mobile phone beforehand, so you can call your bank straight away, while you’re still near the machine. Take your phone out now and tap it in.

What do the banks do?

Following the advice above will help keep you safe, but it’s also important to know what banks are doing to stop fraudsters.

My police unit works closely with the banks, including NatWest, to tackle the ATM criminals – identifying the fraudsters and taking out the gangs that are responsible.

Banks and cash machine operators also invest heavily in an effort to combat these types of crimes. Security devices – such as enhanced card slots – are fitted to cash machines to prevent both skimming and card trapping.

Working together with the banks and police will minimise your chances of being defrauded. Just remember: cover your PIN

Top tips

Always carefully shield your PIN from hidden cameras or prying eyes whenever you use your card
Do not keep a written record of your PIN
Never tell anyone else your PIN or allow anyone to use your card
Don’t choose a PIN that someone could easily guess such as your date of birth
Store the 24 hour emergency contact number for all of your cards in your mobile phone or in another easily accessible place
If your card is not returned to you by an ATM after use, call your card issuer immediately – if possible whilst at, or near, the machine
If you happen to notice anything unusual or suspicious about an ATM, do not use it and report it to the bank or cash machine operator wherever possible

Check your statements regularly – if you spot anything suspicious, report it to your bank straight away

When using an ATM, make sure that look out for people close by who may be trying to distract you in order to steal your card or pin.

Remember, if you’re unlucky enough to be a victim, you are protected and you will get any money lost back from your bank providing that you have adhered to the conditions of use. 

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