How consumers guard against card skimming

By : Dena Hamilton

July 16, 2016 04:00 AM

I’ve noted recently how card skimming is a growing problem around the world – particularly in the US. While the banking industry clearly has work to do in order to protect ATMs from this sort of crime, the users of these devices also have a role to play to help make sure they stay safe. While it’s true that some scammers have developed highly sophisticated techniques for infiltrating card readers – not just at ATMs, but also in places such as fuel station pay-at-pump facilities and even some in-store POS machines – there are still a few basic security precautions that we can all be taking when using card-reading machines.


Be mindful of the surroundings


It may seem simple, but consumers should be wary of any ATM that appears old or in a poor state of repair. These are more likely to be targets for scammers and vandals as they may well be easier to tamper with.


Similarly, machines in out-of-the-way locations that are not easily overlooked can also be useful to scammers, giving them the privacy they need to install skimming equipment. And, of course, users need to keep a close eye out whenever they use an ATM to prevent people peering over their shoulder to see their PIN.


What’s on the machine?


Although some of the latest skimming devices have been designed to be as unobtrusive as possible and blend in with the fascia of the ATM, there are often still a few tell-tale signs that consumers need to be on the lookout for.


For instance, users should pay close attention to anything around the monitors or front of the ATM that does not appear to be part of the design. Even the smallest discrepancy can be cause for concern, as anything that can hide a small camera lens that is aimed at the keypad is not part of a normal ATM camera design.


What’s more, if there are unusual decals or stickers on the front of the ATM, this could also be a sign that the ATM has been tampered with. Press on the sticker. If it feels like there’s a hole under it, this is a key sign of potential tampering.


Other key precautions


If the machine has a prominent, older-looking bezel around the card slot, this could be another important signifier of a skimming device. Users should test this by trying to shake the bezel – any movement should be a clear warning sign.


Consumers should also avoid using their bank card on a vestibule card reader in order to gain access to a lobby ATM, as these are also tempting targets for scammers.


It’s also important that consumers keep pressure on their banks to treat ATM security as a priority. They should be asking their financial institution what types of protection that they have deployed at the ATMs and other endpoints where cards are used.


The key defense strategy is for financial institutions to deploy state of the art anti-skimming solutions such as NCR’s Skimming Protection.  Over the longer term skimming can only be eliminated with the removal of the magnetic strip from the card. This will be replaced with the use of chip only cards, as well as mobile and contactless transaction initiation.


Following these tips can greatly help reduce a consumer’s chances of falling victim to a scammer. And remember – if in doubt, it’s always best to walk away and find another location rather than run the risk of falling victim to fraud.


Dena Hamilton

GM/Director, Enterprise Fraud & Security Software Solutions

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Dena specializes in fraud, risk, compliance and security with over 35 years in the financial services space. Her focus is in the development and deployment of enterprise financial crime solutions optimized in prevention, detection and back office efficiency.