How to spot and prevent cashpoint skimming

By Michael Lloyd

Despite ongoing efforts to thwart the cashpoint card skimming that's been going on for well over a decade, tech-savvy thieves continue to steal money by tampering with ATMs. To keep your money out of their hands, there are a number of red flags you can look for before using an ATM.

Cashpoint skimmers are devices attached to cash machines that capture consumers' card details. These devices are typically used alongside pinhole cameras fitted to a cash machine's housing or special keypad overlays that capture cardholder PINs. Criminals then use your information to fraudulently withdraw money, make cardholder-not-present transactions, or to sell to other criminals.

While building a skimmer used to require a high level of technical expertise, the wide availability of consumer technology has made the task a lot easier, with many criminals taking advantage of 3D printers and hardware stripped out of smartphones.


If skimming is an old technique, why isn't it obsolete yet?
Skimming is on the decline in the UK, according to Douglas Russell, director of DFR Risk Management, a cashpoint risk management firm. But as banks and ATM manufacturers come up with better and more sophisticated skimming solutions, he says, criminals find more sophisticated means themselves, creating a never-ending game of cat and mouse.

"Once criminal gangs have identified a relatively low-risk source of revenue, they are usually unwilling to give up simply because things have become more difficult," Russell says. "A common mistake by some solution providers and ATM owners is a failure to anticipate how criminals will respond to the defences put in place to address ATM fraud. A perfect example is the re-emergence of relatively low-tech ATM fraud, including
card trapping [in which the consumer's card is physically trapped inside the ATM card slot] and cash trapping, whereby the cash that
the consumer has requested is trapped and hidden [to be later removed by the criminal]."

Newer, more sophisticated methods include inserting wire-tapping or bugging devices in the ATM and installing specially created malware on ATMs, Russell says.

But no matter what the design of the skimming device or how sophisticated the technology, skimming fraudsters largely rely on the fact that consumers pay little attention to the machines they use to withdraw money.

You should always take a close look at any cash machine you're planning to use. Here are some red flags to watch out for, and ways to thwart thieves:

  • Suspicious devices attached to a cashpoint.
    Be on the lookout for keypad overlays and anything suspicious fitted over the card reader slot or in the ATM housing above the PIN-entry keypad.

  • A loose card reader or PIN-entry pad.
    Tug and wiggle these parts of the ATM. If they are loose, it could be a sign that the cashpoint has been tampered with.

  • Do not remove any suspicious devices.
    The criminals that fitted them could be watching over you and may seek to retrieve their property if you attempt to take it. Instead, contact the ATM owner/operator.

  • Cover the PIN-entry keypad when entering your PIN.
    This will help prevent any camera device fitted to the cash machine from recording your number.

  • Call your bank immediately if your card is "swallowed".
    This will allow you to verify whether your issuer has detained it, or if it may have been snatched by criminals.

  • Keep a close eye on your bank statements.
    If you see any transactions you do not recognise, contact your bank immediately. "Reporting suspicious transactions to their card issuer as soon as possible will in most cases result in being treated fairly and being refunded for the fraudulent transaction," Russell says.
See related: Old-style scams increasingly used by fraudsters, Protect yourself from vishing scams

Published: 17 February 2015