Is that ATM safe to use? Maybe not…


The threat of fraud is pretty much everywhere these days, and if you aren’t taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself — and your money — this may change your mind. 

Financial analytics company FICO found that between 2014 and 2015, the number of ATM skimming incidents increased 546%, according to

That’s a startling number! And what’s even more alarming is that the technology used to carry out this type of fraud isn’t just found at ATMs — in fact, you could unknowingly be putting yourself at risk a lot more often than you realize.

Read more: Identity Theft Guide

How it works

A skimmer is a small electronic device that can be attached to an ATM where you insert your card. It’s used by criminals to illegally capture your card information, and sometimes, it’s implemented in conjunction with a surveillance camera that captures you punching in your secret code. 

Within just minutes, the crooks have all of your information and access to your bank account — which is typically emptied before you even have a chance to realize what happened.

And while FICO’s data reveals the serious threat and prevalence of ATM skimmers, the ATM isn’t the only place where your plastic is vulnerable.

Card skimmers at gas station pay-at-the-pump machines have been a popular way for scammers to steal people’s information for a long time, and they continue to pop up everywhere, including at grocery stores.


Read more: 9 places to never use a debit card

How to protect yourself

While it’s difficult to guarantee that you never fall victim to an ATM or other card skimming scam, there are ways to minimize your risks, as well as minimize the damage if does happen to you.

First, it’s important to know that you have fewer consumer protections with debit cards. For example, let’s say you notice fraudulent activity on your credit card. You have 60 days to report it and dispute the charge with your credit card company. But if you used a debit card, you have only 2 days to report it!

On top of that, hotels, gas stations, rental car companies and other companies will put a hold on your checking account if you use a debit card. If you have any checks floating around that someone tries to cash — or other payments scheduled to go through from the same account — that could cause your account to be overdrawn and result in big fees. Plus, the company that runs your debit card may even do a hard inquiry on your credit without you knowing, which will lower your credit score!

So with all that in mind, here are some ways to protect yourself:

  • Grab the plastic slot on an ATM where you insert your card and shake it to make sure that it doesn’t come loose. If it’s moving up and down in your hand, there may be a skimmer attached.

  • Use your free hand to cover your other hand as you punch in your secret code: Remember, you may be on a crook’s candid camera or someone may be viewing you remotely with binoculars.

  • Consider setting daily ATM limit: If you don’t carry huge money in your checking account, you might consider instituting a daily limit on ATM withdrawals. Check with your bank or credit union for more details.

  • Only use bank-affiliated ATMs: According to FICO, 60% of all skimming incidents occurred at non-bank ATMs — so try to avoid independent ATMs that aren’t associated with a particular bank — like those at gas stations and other random locations.
  • Never use a debit card at a gas station pump: If you have to use a debit card, go inside to pay.
  • Avoid using a debit card at other places that are popular for scammers: grocery stores, online shopping. Here are more places to never used a debit card.
  • If you can ditch your debit card for a credit card, do it: Credit cards come with a lot more protections than debit cards.
  • Check your bank statements daily: If your account is compromised, you may be able to catch it quickly and avoid more damage if you keep up with your accounts regularly.

See more tips on how to protect yourself from fraud.

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