What are ATM Skimmers – and Why You Should Care?

February 26th, 2021
What are ATM Skimmers – and Why You Should Care?

Take a good look at: ATM skimmers. There’s not a lot of mystery to what their intent is, but it’s helpful to understand how they work, and how to protect your data from them. So: What are ATM skimmers? The simple answer is that it is a type of payment card fraud.

A skimmer is a device that is rigged to the card reader of an ATM machine. An unsuspecting user will enter their card into the ATM, not knowing that the device attached to the slot (unnoticed or ignored) has proceeded to record their payment card data.

You might be thinking: I’d never fall for this. How difficult would it be to spot an ATM skimmer attached near the card slot? You’re not wrong. If you are aware of ATM skimmers, you probably will make sure that there is no device affixed to the ATM. However, more often than not, people approach their ATM transactions on autopilot, not noticing strange details until it’s too late.

A person uses the ATM, enters the card in the card entry slot, keys in their details, takes the money. That’s it. It all happens in a few minutes. Our mind is trained to locate the card entry slot or the mouth of the ATM, and it’s easy to ignore everything else. It is this casual lack of attention that is exploited by cybercriminals.

What’s more, modern-day ATM Skimmers are so evolved that they look like an extension of the card reader slot and the ATM as a whole. While we might spot the device and find it unusual, we might pass it off as just the latest in ATM technology.

ATM skimming: The methodology

Take a look at your card. Turn it over and you will see a magnetic stripe. It is this stripe that the skimming device reads. When you slide your card into the card reader, it proceeds to read and store all data embedded on the card. This data is either used (for fraudulent transactions, for example), sold on the dark web, or used to create fake cards.

Some of the skimming techniques used by criminals include:

  • Placing a plastic overlay on the ATM keypad, which proceeds to steal PIN information as unsuspecting users enter this info on the screen as usual.
  • An overlay is placed right at the entry point of the card reader, which captures information on the magnetic stripe.
  • A device with multiple cameras is placed at a strategic location on the ATM machine to capture information that is entered on the keypad.;

This is just a small sample of the various devices that are being used to steal credit and debit card data from ATM.

Protection against skimming

The truth is there nothing is more effective than becoming more aware of the threats to your personal information, and remembering these threats can come from anywhere and everywhere. The threat landscape is growing and we’ve all got to stay on our toes.

While sharing information, it is important that you exercise caution at all times, and don’t hurry when you make decisions. Never lower your guard. Here are some of the steps you can take to escape an ATM skimmer:

  • Inspect the ATM before use: No matter where the ATM is, whether at a bank or a gas station, check the card entry slot and the face of the ATM machine before you slide in your card. If you think something is off, don’t use the ATM. Keep an eye out for wires, devices, tape, or anything else that looks out of the ordinary.
  • Cover the keypad when you enter the PIN:  This technique will keep your data safe from prying cameras who want to capture your PIN or other banking information.
  • Be aware of your banking and credit card transactions: Very often we choose to ignore the bank statements or just take a cursory look at them. But a best practice you must adopt is always check your bank account. If there is something out of the ordinary, notify your bank immediately.
  • All ATMs are not equal: ATM skimmers first need to install the skimming device in an ATM and then remove it. This means they will choose an ATM that doesn’t have a lot of physical security in place or are typically unmonitored. The typical ATMs of choice for ATM skimmers are the ones outside a restaurant, or gas stations. It is advisable that you take extreme levels of precaution when you are using an ATMs at a location that you think isn’t tamper-proof.

Adopt a holistic approach to security

It’s not just ATM skimmers you should worry about. You also have to take a good look at your personal cybersecurity posture and see how you can strengthen it. One of the easier and ideal ways of securing your home computers is by deploying an advanced antivirus solution like Sophos Home. It deploys business-grade security to protect your PCs and Macs from the most advanced threats. The idea is to develop a sense of security awareness and taking much needed action. Sophos Home helps you do that and more.

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