4 ATM scams you need to know about

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Millions of pounds are stolen at UK cash machines each year; here are four scams you need to look out for when you withdraw cash at an ATM.

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Quick and convenient, cash machines offer an easy way to withdraw money 24-hours a day, seven days a week, but these automated machines have become a big target for fraudsters.

In 2019 a total of £30 million was stolen through cash machine fraud. The devices used by criminals are becoming more sophisticated, so it is more important than ever to check out an ATM before you put in your card.

So how can you be sure the cash machine you are using is safe?

Here are the four things you need to look out for:

1. Skimmer attachments

One of the major cash machine scams fraudsters use involves fitting 'skimmer' devices to cash machines that, once in place, will record your card’s details.

For this reason, the first thing you should do when you approach a cash machine is to inspect its card slot to check that there is nothing unusual about its appearance.

These 'skimmers' are usually attached over the slot where you enter your card and are spray painted to match the machine’s colour, so it can be hard to spot them.

Look closely for any scratches, sticky residue, tape, or other signs of tampering as well as any part of the machine that looks like it is newer, or made from a different material, than the rest. Missing LED lights above the card slot machine are also a giveaway if the ATM you use usually displays them.

Graham Mott, from the cash machine network LINK, has some useful advice if you think you have spotted a skimming device. He said: "Inform the police or ATM operator immediately, ideally using your mobile from in front of the ATM. 

“Warning other people in the queue is helpful as well".

2. Hidden cameras

Another major cash machine scam involves using hidden cameras to capture your card details and, most importantly, your PIN.

Criminals hide these cameras in seemingly inconspicuous places, including panels above the cash machine or inside a fake leaflet stand to the side of it.

When you approach a cash machine, take the time to remove any leaflet containers or anything which could feasibly conceal a hidden camera from near the pin pad and scan the terminal for any unusual panels or objects.

Be on the lookout for slight variations in the colour or material between panels or small pinholes on the pin pad.

If you have any doubts or concerns, report them to your bank immediately and use another machine. 

It’s also worth covering your hand while entering your PIN just in case someone is watching from afar and trying to watch the numbers you’re entering. 

3. Card traps

Card traps are another favourite with fraudsters - these use glue traps, which stop cards from being returned to customers. Criminals later retrieve the captured cards. 

Always check there isn’t anything blocking a card slot before you put in your card. If there is, alert the bank, building society or the company providing the ATM. 

According to Graham Mott from LINK, card traps are “difficult to spot”, but “if your card is retained by the machine, then you should call your bank immediately to put a stop on the card.”

Peak times for card trap fraudsters are Friday evenings when many people are withdrawing cash and when banks will be closed for a few days. Never assume your trapped card is safe over the weekend; call immediately to cancel the card.

4. Suspicious bystanders

While technology allows criminals to steal your debit card details remotely, many fraudsters still use low-tech methods of stealing your money. So while not strictly a sign that an ATM has been compromised, you need to be extra vigilant if anyone is loitering nearby.

Distraction scams, also known as ‘shoulder surfing’, work by drawing your attention while using the cash machine to snatch your card or cash without you realising.

A fraudster may 'accidentally' drop something at your feet or bump into you in a seemingly innocent fashion while you are at the ATM and use the distraction to their advantage.

How to stay safe

Looking out for the four signs above should help you spot anything suspicious before using a cash machine. However, adopting the following habits will mean your details will be harder to steal if you miss the signs.

Cover your pin

Ensuring you cover your hand while you enter your PIN is a must whenever using a cash machine. If you do this religiously, you can largely nullify the threat posed by hidden cameras and unwanted onlookers.

Remember, as your PIN is only known to you, it is essentially the key to your finances. Even though you can now make contactless payments of up to £100, many banks still require customers to enter their PIN routinely. If your card does fall foul of a skimming device, fraudsters will find it more difficult to access your accounts without it.

Be wary

If you are suspicious of any cash machine, or the behaviour of anyone near an ATM, you should lower the risk of being scammed. 

Try to use the same cash machines to draw cash if you can. This way, you're more likely to spot any fraudulent devices.

If you spot something suspicious, use your mobile phone to contact your bank or the police to report the situation, do not try to remove any devices or cameras yourself.

Fraudsters will often stay close to keep an eye on the machine, as hidden cameras and skimming devices can be quite expensive to make. Some people who have attempted to remove them have been assaulted, so report your suspicions to the authorities rather than put yourself at risk.

For more information on keeping your details safe at the cash machine, you can read the Fraud Prevention guide from LINK.

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