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You’re running low on cash and there’s not a bank in sight. But wait, out of the corner of your eye, you spy an ATM inside a deli that’s seen better days. You type in your pin number and then a message pops up on the screen, asking you to re-enter it. Just then, a man walks up behind you offering to help. You allow him to swipe your card and the transaction suddenly goes through. The interaction is forgotten until you discover your account has a zero balance. Guess what? You may be the victim of ATM fraud.
“Your pin number is the key to your financial security,” emphasizes Gregg James, assistant to the special agent in charge at the Secret Service. “Safeguard it like you would the key to your home.” Organizations like the Electronic Funds Transfer Association have recently proposed strict guidelines for those purchasing an ATM — these conditions include a driver’s license, a background check, and some even have capital requirements.
protect yourself with these tips:
Beware of your surroundings. “When you go to an ATM, make sure there’s not someone looking over your shoulder,” says Ann Roman, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service. Also, be on the lookout for signs posted near ATMs that say “Have your card cleaned here.” Next to the sign will be an electronic swipe machine set up to capture the information on the back of your ATM card. Also, use machines that are attached to banks, large supermarkets, Western Union money transfer locations, or airports, because the operation of these machines is carefully supervised, says Linda Foley, co-executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center based in San Diego.
What color is your card reader? Watch out for discolored card readers next to the machine. A transparent device inside the card slot will capture the data on your card to copy it. And if there is a transparent overlay on the ATM keyboard, take your business elsewhere. This seemingly innocuous overlay captures the user’s identification code.
Consider keeping your money separate. Despite the popularity, convenience, and debt management benefits of debit/credit cards, it is recommended that you keep your cards separate. If a crook steals your debit/credit card, the money in your account is taken almost instantly. “Crooks can use your debit/credit card as a credit card or make constant withdrawals until your account is depleted. You can spend months trying to get your bank to refund the money,” says Foley.
Report suspicious activity. If you do happen to use a suspicious looking ATM and your card doesn’t seem to be working, Foley suggests notifying your bank and the authorities immediately, canceling your card, and requesting a new one.
As scary as ATM fraud is, John Hall of the American Bankers Association emphasizes that very few consumers actually fall victim to this crime. If you do become a victim, you need to alert your bank immediately, within two business days of discovering the theft. If you discover the theft once you get your statement, you may