What are the criminals doing?
We see two main methods used by fraudsters to target ATMs – skimming and card trapping.
In a skimming attack, a criminal fits a small device in the card slot of the ATM. This little gadget captures the data from the magnetic stripe on the back of a bank card. Having also copied the PIN using a concealed camera, the fraudster puts this stolen bank card data onto the magnetic stripe of another card – a mobile phone top-up card, for example – which is then used to make cash withdrawals, usually overseas.
Card trapping occurs when a device fitted to the card slot prevents your card from being returned to you. Once you’ve left the machine, the fraudster takes the device off, taking your card.
How to stay safe
Working in our police unit for many years, I’ve seen that the devices fraudsters use are getting smaller and the criminals are getting cleverer.
But the key bit of information the fraudsters need remains the same – your PIN. Without this, they can’t spend your money.
As mentioned, the criminals usually try to get your PIN by fitting a small video camera which overlooks the keypad, cleverly disguising it to look like part of the machine. I’ve taken a fake ATM out and about to shopping centres to raise awareness of these scams, and people are often amazed to see that a hidden camera is fitted. So it’s important to be wary of this, as well as people looking over your shoulder.
The best way to protect yourself? Cover your PIN.
When I was a policeman, I spent many hours observing this sort of crime in an effort to catch these criminals. I was always surprised by how many people didn’t hide their PIN.
Whenever you’re at a cash machine, try to use your fingers to conceal your PIN from any prying eyes or cameras.
If your card is trapped in a machine, you might think there’s been a problem and you can just come back the following day to get your card back. But of course as soon as you leave, the criminal returns to the machine and takes your bank card.
It’s therefore really important that you have the help number on the back of your card saved to your mobile phone beforehand, so you can call your bank straight away, while you’re still near the machine. Take your phone out now and tap it in.
What do the banks do?
Following the advice above will help keep you safe, but it’s also important to know what banks are doing to stop fraudsters.
My police unit works closely with the banks, including NatWest, to tackle the ATM criminals – identifying the fraudsters and taking out the gangs that are responsible.
Banks and cash machine operators also invest heavily in an effort to combat these types of crimes. Security devices – such as enhanced card slots – are fitted to cash machines to prevent both skimming and card trapping.
Working together with the banks and police will minimise your chances of being defrauded. Just remember: cover your PIN