3 Common ATM scams, and how to avoid them

By Staff Writer

ATM fraudsters are increasingly active, but they are hard to spot and it’s important to remain vigilant.

The bustle and busyness of holidays are of particular interest to scammers, as they can use queues and crowds to conceal themselves. We sought tips from some banking experts to help you to remain safe as Christmas approaches.

Tip: You can spot fraudulent activities in your accounts by joining CreditSav.

Types of ATM crimes

According to Nitesh Patel, head of customer financial solutions for Personal Banking at Standard Bank, there are three common types of ATM crimes. These are as follows.

  1. Card swapping. Criminals distract you while you enter your PIN, and swap your card for one contained in their hand. This is done so quickly and with so little disruption that very often you are unaware that it’s happened.
  2. Card skimming. This typically involves tampering with an ATM by placing an additional card reader over the ATM’s. In conjunction with a hidden camera, fraudsters use this hardware to steal your card details and PIN.
  3. Vandalism. There are two reasons why an ATM is vandalised. Firstly, it can force you to use an ATM you wouldn’t usually use, for example, in a poorly lit and quiet area. Here, it is easier to commit one of the two crimes above. Alternatively, it may cause your card to be trapped in the ATM, which leads you to think that the machine has “swallowed” your card. 
    Patel notes that when this happens, someone could be watching you enter your PIN from a distance. It’s also quite possible that the criminal will offer you the use of their cell phone to cancel your card, while having an accomplice on the other end of the line pretending to be from the bank, who will ask you for your PIN.
    Lastly, the criminal may advise that you enter your PIN, and press the cancel button to retrieve your card. While you are doing this, says Patel, the criminal memorises your PIN and removes your card using a sharp object once you leave.

What not to do 

When using an ATM, there are a number things that you need to avoid. Possibly the most important point to keep in mind is that you should never ask a stranger, even the security guard, for assistance. Lee-Anne van Zyl, CEO of First National Bank (FNB) says that if you are unsure of anything, you should rather visit a nearby branch for assistance.

Furthermore, do not respond to strangers who may disturb you, no matter who they are or what they look like. Deon Louw, head of card and merchant fraud at Nedbank, says, “Never allow strangers to interact with you whilst you are transacting at an ATM. If you are approached, report the incident to your bank immediately and stop your card. Chances are your card has been skimmed.”

FNB notes that you should never force your card into an ATM. “If the card is not easily accepted by the device, it may have been tampered with.”

In addition, if an ATM looks faulty, don’t use it. This is another sign that the machine may have been tampered with. Stop any transaction you may have started, and use another ATM.

“Check that the ATM is in a ready and good state,” Patel advises. “Criminals will typically remove bank contact details from the ATM, to delay you in stopping your card.”

As you approach the ATM, pay attention to your surroundings and look out for loiterers.

How to protect your ATM PIN 

It’s of utmost importance that you keep your card PIN private. Louw says, “Never share your PIN with anyone, not even family or friends, and never write it down or store it electronically on a phone or laptop. If the card is stolen along with the phone or laptop, your accounts are at risk.”

FNB points out that a PIN should never be easy to guess. In other words, avoid using significant dates and numbers.

When entering your PIN at the ATM, Louw says you should always shield the keypad with your other hand. FNB adds, “Stand as close as possible to the ATM and never let anyone stand close to you whilst transacting.”

FNB also notes that you shouldn’t enter your PIN on a screen that’s unfamiliar to you, and that you should read the onscreen instructions before entering your PIN. Patel adds that you should only enter your PIN when you are prompted to do so by the ATM.

Should your card be “swallowed”, it’s important to note that an ATM will only retain a card after three unsuccessful PIN attempts. Louw adds, “if a stranger has interacted with you whilst transacting, and your card now appears to have been retained by the ATM, contact your bank immediately.”

Protecting your cash 

After you have finished with the ATM, it’s important that you put away your cash immediately. In general, FNB says, you should avoid handling cash in public view.

Patel says, “Don't count or expose your money unnecessarily when depositing or withdrawing. Enter and leave the ATM area as quickly as possible, and avoid conversation with strangers.” Also, ensure that your purse or wallet is secure before you leave.

A further tip is to try to keep your daily cash withdrawal limit to a minimum. Rather than carrying around large amounts of cash, FNB notes that you should rather use your debit card to make purchases.

“Knowing what look out for and what not to do could potentially save customers their hard-earned money,” van Zyl says. “The festive season is around the corner; therefore, consumers are urged to be extra vigilant. This is a busy time but it’s not the best moment to let your guard down.”

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