Every once in a while, you may hear a story on the local news alerting you that a skimming device was discovered at an area automated teller machine (ATM). Then a question comes in mind that what is ATM skimming? For those who might not already know, it basically involves a card-reading device placed over the real card slot on an ATM. This device captures account information from the card. Meanwhile, the victim’s PIN is captured, either with a small camera hidden on the machine or with a keypad overlay that can be removed later. The criminal creates new cards using blank plastic card stock (even inactivated gift cards), which are then used to drain victims’ accounts. All of these devices can blend in extremely well with the real ATM hardware, and can be hard to detect. For several years, reports of ATM skimmer devices have been increasing. . The frequency of this fraud and the complexity of the technology being used are increasing rapidly.

However, to gain full access to your bank account on an ATM, the thieves still need your PIN number. That's where cameras come in, hidden on or near the ATMs, tiny spy cameras are positioned to get a clear view of the keypad and record all the ATM's PIN action. Always pay attention to objects attached on the ATM or located close by. A pinhole or off-color piece of plastic could give away the camera's hiding place. Cameras could even be hidden in brochure racks.

Some ATM skimming schemes employ fake keypads in lieu of cameras to capture PIN numbers. Just like the card skimmers fit over the ATM's true card slot, skimming keypads are designed to copy the keypad's design and fit over it like a glove. If you notice that the keypad on your ATM seems to jut unusually from the surface around it, or if you detect an odd color change between the pad and the rest of the ATM, it could be a fake.

ATM Skimming

One method of skimming involves fraudsters installing a faceplate over the card slot of any machine which accepts debit or credit cards. This is commonly referred to as ATM skimming, but it is also popular with other types of payment processing machines, such as those at gas stations and parking lots.

The face plates installed on these machines usually contain hardware which reads your card’s magnetic stripe before it enters into the original ATM card slot.

Your PIN number is then either observed by a person “shoulder surfing” or by a hidden pinhole camera installed on the machine and pointed at the keypad. This is why it is a good idea to cover your keypad with your hand even when alone at an ATM machine.

Fraudsters don't need to return to the ATM machine to extract the video and card information because many of these skimming devices also have wireless capabilities. Fraudsters can comfortably and anonymously sit in their car, hundreds of feet away, and retrieve the information wirelessly.

Replacing or Modifying Pin pads

Sometimes the family members of employees, often approach employees of a retail establishment and bribe them to assist in modifying or replacing an existing pin pad with a fake one and installing cameras to record PIN numbers.
They collect card information from the pin pads and the video is later retrieved by the dishonest employee and given back to the fraudster. The employee will usually share in the proceeds and receive a payment or be paid on a per-card-skimmed basis.

Some retail establishments, such as the office suppliers used locks on their debit pin pads to prevent fraudsters or dishonest employees from stealing and replacing them.

Skimming Devices

Because skimming using a handheld device can be extremely easy, many dishonest employees choose to operate alone. All an employee needs to do is to wait until your attention is distracted to swipe your card from behind the counter.

Skimming devices are readily available on the Internet from websites on cheap prices. These devices are usually disguised under the name of a “card reader” because they can also serve legitimate purposes.

Skimming at restaurants also happens frequently, especially since customers often leave their credit card for the server to pick up, process, and return a few minutes later. In these cases, a portable card reader is perfect because it is small enough to fit in the server’s pockets or apron.

A server may not even need a portable skimming device. Your credit card information can easily be written down or copied from a receipt.

Protect Yourself from Card Skimming

It is very difficult for victims to know how, when, and where their cards were skimmed. Your card’s details may have been skimmed months or years prior to you discovering any fraudulent transactions on your statements.

Although debit and credit card companies can often perform data removal to find which retail establishments multiple victims have commonly used their cards at, at that point, it is often too late for the victim.

Card skimming may be too much complex, but there are still some basic things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Cover your keypad. Always use your hand and body to cover your keypad when operating a handheld pinpad or a payment processing machine like an ATM even when alone. This will prevent shoulder surfers and pinhole cameras from observing your PIN number.
  • Watch your card. If you must hand your debit or credit card to an employee, don’t take your eyes off of it. It only takes a second for your card to be swiped while you look the other way.
  • Pay up front. When eating at restaurants, ask to pay at the terminal instead of giving your credit card to a server for processing.
  • Review your statements. View your bank and card statements on a regular basis. Watch for suspicious charges.
  • Notify someone. If you spot a suspicious pinpad or payment processing machine, notify someone immediately. If you are using a bank’s ATM and the bank is open, notify the bank manager. Otherwise, notify the local police.

Facts on skimming devices

  • Skimming devices are normally attached to ATMs during quiet periods, e.g. early morning / late evening.
  • Length of time skimming devices are attached can vary, but normally no longer than 24 hours.
  • Successful skimming requires both a card skimmer (card reader) & camera (PIN capturing device) to be fitted to the ATM in order to steal card data.
  • Criminals may loiter nearby to observe customers & remove equipment after machine use.
  • Downloaded information can be transmitted wirelessly to other devices.

How can you reduce the risk?

  • Familiarise yourself with the look & feel of the ATM outlook on machines.
  • Inspect the ATM & all areas of its fascia for unusual or non-standard appearance.
  • Is there anything unusual (card reader, area above the screen)?
  • Report any unusual appearance immediately to Police or the nearest CBA branch.
  • Always use your hand to shield your PIN when entering it.

Warning signs

  • Does the ATM look like it normally? Can you see any unusual additions, marks or changes?
  • Are there any signs that someone has tampered with the ATM - can you see any glue residue, exposed wires, pieces of double-sided tape?
  • You notice something suspicious about the card slot on an ATM (e.g. an attached device).
  • A shop assistant takes your card out of your sight to process your transaction.
  • A shop assistant asks you to swipe your card through more than one EFTPOS machine.
  • A shop assistant swipes your card through a different machine to the one you used.
  • You notice unusual or unauthorized transactions on your account or credit card statement.
  • If you spot a suspicious pinpad or payment processing machine, notify someone immediately. If you are using a bank’s ATM and the bank is open, notify the bank manager. Otherwise, notify the local police.
  • If you found a suspicious pinpad or payment processing machine, notify someone immediately. If you are using a bank’s ATM and the bank is open, notify the bank manager. Otherwise, notify the local police.


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