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Protect Yourself From ATM Scams

James H. Dimmitt -- Using a little caution with your ATM and credit cards will go a long way toward keeping you safe from ATM fraud.

In this day and age, ATMs have become a fast and efficient way of getting our hands on our money. But if you're not cautious, the automatic teller machine can also be a quick way for others to get their hands on it, too.

Not long ago, ABC News ran a story showing how easy it was to collect account numbers and Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) from unsuspecting consumers. In their experiment, they set up a sign next to a banking ATM that offered to "clean" the magnetic strip on people's cards as a courtesy to their customers. The sign had a magnetic card reader attached to it so that people could swipe their cards to have them "magically" cleaned.

And how many people fell for it? You'd be surprised. In their experiment, more than half of the people using the ATM used the special card cleaner before using it in the ATM. Fortunately, this was only an experiment and no account information was actually transferred from the "fake" cleaning machine.

But imagine what could have happened if this had not been an experiment but a scam by real thieves attempting to capture your personal information? I'm sure those unsuspecting customers in the experiment would have been in for quite a shock the next time they accessed their account balances!

A twist on this scheme is for crooks to place an "Out Of Order" sign on the ATM and place a fake machine next to it. The fake machine has a card reader to collect the account and PIN information but won't actually dispense cash. The information collected is then transferred to a new card and used to steal cash from your account.

Another scheme involves inserting a thin clear plastic sleeve into the ATM's card reader. This prevents the machine from being able to read your card and it will continually ask you to enter your PIN. The thief who installed the sleeve is stationed nearby watching while the PIN is input over and over. The victim finally gives up, thinking that the machine has kept their card and leaves. The thief then retrieves the card, enters the memorized PIN, and takes out cash from the victim's account.

If you find anything suspicious about an ATM, report it to the bank and to the police immediately. Using a little caution with your ATM and credit cards will go a long way toward keeping you safe from ATM fraud.

James H. Dimmitt is editor of To Your Credit, a weekly free newsletter to help you manage your personal finances. Subscribe to the newsletter by visiting He is also author of Identity Theft -- How To Avoid Becoming the Next Victim! available at

© 2004 James H. Dimmitt

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