When Nick McGlynn stepped into a bank in April, he quickly noticed something was wrong with one of the ATMs. “I saw a mirror that looked out of place,” McGlynn says. ”It was in the centre of the ATM, above the keypad. So I pulled on it and it came right off. Then I pulled on the card reader and it came off too. They were both held in place with doublesided tape.”
McGlynn had discovered an ATM skimmer – a device attached to an ATM by criminals Q I’ve heard about ATM skimming devices that can steal my card information. How do I spot one? looking to steal bank card information and PINs. The simplest skimmer setups involve little more than a magneticstripe reader and a hidden camera aimed at the ATM keypad. The reader snaps up your card’s information, and the camera records your PIN as you enter it. With this information, a criminal can create and use a plastic clone of your card. If the setup features a camera aimed at the reader to record the security code printed on the card, the criminal can use the information to make online purchases.
All the information gathered is stored either on a memory card or a connected laptop hidden nearby, or sent to another computer via a 3G wireless card. In some cases, the magstripe reader is placed next to the ATM’s actual card slot, which is covered with an “Out of Order” sign. The false reader also may be placed directly over the real card slot, sucking up data as the card passes through to the bank’s machine. When this happens, users get cash and a receipt as if nothing had happened.
The banks acknowledge that skimmers have become a problem. Unfortunately, the barrier of entry for would-be thieves is low. “A criminal can do a simple Google search, spend some money buying parts on eBay and within a couple of days have a fully operational card-skimming operation in place,” says John Pironti, president of digital-security consulting firm IP Architects.
Because these parts are often cobbled together from various sources, few ATM skimmers look exactly alike. The camera could be from a cellphone, the battery an off-the-shelf lithiumion cell. Criminals aren’t interested in creating a polished device – just something that works well enough to steal information for a few hours or days before it gets discovered and removed. So how can you spot a skimmer? “If it looks like something’s been attached, snapped or glued on to the ATM, that’s a warning sign,” Pironti says. “ATMs are pretty straightforward, so if something looks physically wrong, it probably is.”
“Be vigilant at ATMs,” says another bank fraud expert. “Visually and physically check the machine. Most skimmers, keypad overlays and cameras will be recognisable to the typical ATM user.” In particular, users should pay attention to the card reader and anything that protrudes from the machine, such as a mirror or pamphlet- holder – these are prime hiding places for tiny cameras. It can’t hurt to give any of these items a quick tug to make sure they weren’t lightly glued or taped into place. Another red flag: any machine in a row of ATMs that looks different from the others.
Always do your best to conceal your fingers as you type the PIN (try holding your other hand over the one typing). That way, even if there is a hidden camera, it will have a hard time capturing your PIN.