Top 5 Tips for Staying Safe at the ATM

We spend a lot of time talking about how to insure that our money is safely in a FDIC or NCUA insured bank or credit union.  We talk about finding the best ways to squeeze those last few pennies of interest out of our savings accounts and reduce the interest on our loans.  But, one thing we often overlook is our physical safety when it comes to money.

24hr ATM First, and foremost, I would like to inform you that having a swimming pool of gold coins ala McDuck is a really cool idea, but is somewhat hazardous to your health if you plan on diving into and swimming through said coins.  For those of us that can’t fill a pool full of coins (even pennies), the largest place that we need to ensure our physical and fiscal safety is while using an ATM.  Here are 5 tips to help you use the ATM as safely as possible, and protect yourself from ID theft (and physical harm).

  1. Choose a well lit ATM. Just because that ATM that’s hidden away in a dark alley is one of your in-network free ATMs, doesn’t mean you should put yourself at risk to use it.  Always choose an ATM in a well lit area.  The usage fee is worth your safety.
  2. Check for skimmers. The #1 most popular way of harming you at an ATM is the use of a skimmer.  A skimmer is a small device made to look exactly like the card reader that fits over the card reader.  As you insert your card into the reader to use the ATM, the skimmer reads the data on the card and stores it for the crooks to retrieve at a later date.  Some estimates say that these crooks have spent $250,000 on one of these devices, so they are very hard to spot.  Take a close look at the reader before you use it.  If you have any suspicions at all, report them to the staff at the institution that runs the ATM and then look for a new ATM to use temporarily.
  3. Check for cameras. Again, the crooks like to see what you’re doing when you enter your PIN.  So, they install tiny pinhole cameras that record you as you enter in your PIN and other information.  Also check for security cameras.  There’s usually one in the ATM housing itself, but having one or two in the vicinity is also a good sign.  Popular places for crooks to place pinhole cameras include the skimmer that they install, behind mirror housings, and as external stickies right out in the open.  Whatever it takes for them to be able to try and capture your PIN.  Which brings us to the next tip.
  4. Cover your PIN. When you go to enter your PIN, use your other hand or anything on hand (purse, hat, etc) to cover the PIN pad and your hand as you enter your PIN.  This little bit of caution can save you a lot of headache.
  5. Watch your back. One of the other popular ways for crooks to get your PIN is to do what is called “shoulder surf”.  Basically, as you walk up to the ATM, one of the crooks will walk up behind you and merely watch over your shoulder as you enter in you PIN.  If they can get the card, and the PIN, they can basically write their own checks from your account.  A quick glance over your shoulder or into the mirror on the ATM is usually enough to ensure someone isn’t taking a peek at your PIN

ATMs have become such a common thing in many of our everyday lives that we give very little thought to our own security while using them.  More often than not, ATMs are just as safe as going in to a branch and talking with a teller, and banks and credit unions do their best to make them ATMs as safe as possible.  Despite all of that, credit card fraud is a $1+ Billion dollar industry. Observing these 5 tips will help you avoid the risks that can sometimes occur and help you conduct your banking safely.

photo credit: ⓆiaoⒹaⓎe錫濛譙大爺

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