Tips for Using ATMs Securely


You know the basic rules – use only ATMs in well-lighted places, try not to withdraw money late at night, cover your hand as you input your PIN, be aware of your surroundings. But these great ideas are not always enough.

At a recent Outdoor Crime Prevention Seminar, arranged by Lt. Zenobia McBride of the 2nd District, Det. Michael Milochik from the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s Financial & Cyber Crimes Unit shared strategies to protect your money from the criminals you can’t see.

Thieves now use skimmers – small devices that read credit and debit card information – to collect your card number. Small cameras or false keypads record your PIN. The thief is now able to manufacture a fake card – which will be able to access YOUR money! This is big business, and is possible as long as there are strips on credit and debit cards. Change to chips is coming, but slowly. In the meantime, you can protect yourself.

First, wiggle the plastic trim around the slot where you insert your card. If it’s loose, don’t use it. If something comes off in your hand, call 911 and wait for an officer to collect the device as evidence. Second, look for a pinhole directed at the keypad. (Yes, you may look strange.) That pinhole is a camera which will steal your PIN. Third, look for a change in the brightness of the ATM screen. If it looks odd, use another ATM. Fourth, look for any unusual bulkiness or pieces of trim. If the ATM looks or feels wrong, don’t use it. Finally, notify the police of your suspicions.

Det. Milochik noted that ATMs inside lockable bank branch lobbies tend to be the safest to use because they are watched – by either humans or cameras – 24 hours a day. ATMs in very public, non-bank locations – like the 7-11 – are not monitored closely, allowing thieves to easily attach skimming devices.

Finally, watch your statement. Use your bank’s app to check your account activity frequently, and notify your bank immediately if you see a suspicious transaction. Most banks will allow you to set up fraud alerts so you receive a call or text if unusual activity occurs. And several banks now allow you to disable your ATM card if it’s lost – and to re-enable it if you find the card later.

Stay safe out there!

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