Cash machines (ATMs) are a very safe way to access your account and help avoid the risks of carrying large amounts of cash. Millions of transactions are made through the LINK system every day and the chances of becoming a victim of ATM crime are very low. However, there are a number of steps which all cardholders can take to help fight ATM crime. In particular, it’s important to take the very simple step of covering your PIN with one hand as you enter it with the other.
What is it?
Criminals use a variety of methods to target cash machines, including card skimming, when they fit a small device in the slot of the ATM or use a concealed device to capture your PIN. They may also use a technique called card trapping; when a device is fitted to the card slot to stop your card being returned to you.
Entrapment devices: Inserted into the card slot in a cash machine, these devices prevent the card from being returned to the cardholder. To capture the PIN, the criminal will use a small camera attached to the machine and directed at the PIN pad, or they will watch it being entered by the cardholder. Once the customer leaves the machine, the criminal removes the device and the card and uses it to withdraw cash.
Skimming devices: These devices are attached to the cash machine to record the details from the magnetic strip of a card, while a miniature camera captures the PIN being entered. A fake magnetic stripe card is then produced and used with the genuine PIN to withdraw cash at machines overseas which have yet to be upgraded to Chip and PIN.
Shoulder surfing: A technique used by criminals to obtain PINs by watching over the cardholder’s shoulder when they are using an ATM or card machine. The criminal then steals the card using distraction techniques or pickpocketing.
How to spot cash machine fraud
- You notice something suspicious or unusual about the cash machine such as signs of tampering
- You spot someone watching you or trying to distract you as you enter your PIN
How to stay safe when using your card at a cash machine
Follow our tips below to minimise the chances of having your card or card details stolen at a cash or self-service machine, such as when buying tickets or at petrol stations.
- Always cover the keypad with your free hand whenever you use your card to avoid your PIN being seen, or to prevent it from being captured by a hidden camera set up by a criminal.
- Make sure you’re aware of people who may be standing too close or trying to distract you as you use an ATM in order to steal your card details and PIN. It’s okay to say no to offers of help from seemingly well-meaning strangers.
- If your card has been retained by a card machine, ensure you report it to your card provider immediately – if possible whilst at, or near, the machine. Make sure you have your card company’s 24-hour contact telephone number. The number will be on the back of your card, your card statement, their website or banking app.
- If your banking app allows, freeze your card through the app to prevent criminals making withdrawals and purchases if your card is stolen or missing.
- Some banks will allow you to put a maximum cash machine withdrawal limit through your banking app, this can prevent criminals taking large sums from your account if your card is stolen.
- If you notice anything suspicious or unusual about an ATM such as signs of tampering, step away from using it and report it to the bank concerned immediately.
- Ensure you put your card and money away for safekeeping prior to leaving the cash machine. Where possible, destroy or shred any receipts, mini-statements, or balance enquiries when you dispose of them.
Example of card machine fraud
Annie* hurriedly keyed her PIN into the cash machine; her builder was impatiently waiting to be paid and she was late picking up her children from school. She was unaware of the watchful gaze from the woman behind her who saw her enter her PIN. Before Annie could remove both her cash and card from the ATM, she heard a clatter of coins nearby. As she turned to help the distressed woman who had dropped her bag on the floor, the man at the neighbouring ATM hastily replaced her bank card with one that was fake. Unaware, Annie retrieved her card and money from the cash machine and walked home.
The stranger informed the man of Annie’s PIN and watched as he emptied her bank account.
*Case studies are based on insights from partners