Fraud Alert: Skimming
Most ATM users are aware of how to maintain physical security:
- Choose a well-lit location.
- Be mindful of your surroundings.
- Swiftly insert your card and quickly resecure it, along with any withdrawn cash.
But criminals are no longer just interested in stealing limited cash here and there. They’re after something much more valuable – your card data. With that information, they can drain your entire account before you even know it’s gone.
Anyone who uses a card with a magnetic stripe could become a victim of card skimming, which costs U.S. consumers and their financial institutions an estimated one billion dollars per year. 1
Anatomy of card-skimming fraud
Card skimming happens when someone installs an undetected, illegal device in an ATM, point-of-sale device, or gas station card reader to acquire users’ card information. This data includes card numbers, CVV codes, expiration dates, and PINs.
Skimming setups run the gamut of sophistication, from the use of Bluetooth® technology to send data directly to a fraudster's smartphone, to simpler devices attached to the machine with double-sided tape. Fraudsters count on ATM users to be in a hurry and less attentive when conducting transactions. So, they are less likely to pay attention to ATMs and other devices.
Designed to look like part of the ATM or card reader, these devices are practically invisible to the naked eye and usually go unnoticed. When you insert your card into an ATM with a skimming device, the device reads the information, then transmits it to the fraudsters.
But your card details are only half the information fraudsters need to access your account. In addition to a card reader, the illegal setup may also include a tiny pinhole camera hidden in or around the ATM and aimed at the keypad to record keypad input (e.g., your PIN). In some instances, criminals use a plastic overlay on the factory keypad to record keystrokes.
Armed with your data and access codes, fraudsters can then clone your card, make fraudulent online payments and ATM withdrawals, or sell your information on the dark web.
How to spot a shady ATM
Although ATM skimming devices are intended to look like part of the machine, they aren’t. If you are vigilant and know what to look for, you might avoid becoming a victim of this scam. Here are some ways to determine if an ATM may be compromised.
- Look for tape or sticky glue on any part of the ATM.
- Be aware of bulkiness around the card reader slot. They're often overlays so they stick out, appear at an odd angle, or cover directional arrows or words, for example.
- Wiggle the card reader attachment. ATMs are purposefully built to be solid. Any loose or "jiggly" parts could be an indication that a skimmer is attached.
- Feel the keypad. Does it seem too new or odd in any way? Do the keys feel spongy or stiff?
- Notice any place a small camera might be hidden. Bank security cameras are typically prominent, not obscure.
- Check carefully for any extraneous pieces or devices attached to or around the machine. They will often be painted the same color as the ATM.
- Pay attention to any bulging, crooked, scratched, or damaged areas on the ATM. That's a sign the machine may have been tampered with.
How can you protect yourself from card skimming?
It's not easy for the average user to identify a skimming device. But the following 10 tips can help minimize your odds of falling victim to this type of fraud.
- Use bank ATMs that are located inside or in a prominent location near the branch building where an employee can easily see it.
- Avoid ATMs that are in areas of poor lighting with lots of public access.
- Avoid standalone machines in favor of bank ATMs.
- Cover the keypad with your hands when entering your PIN or use both hands to quickly make keystrokes.
- Be especially vigilant when using ATMs on weekends. Fraudsters like to install skimmers Saturday morning because they know the bank won't be open for more than 24 hours.
- Look for newer ATMs that have contactless capability so you can use a wireless reader to tap your card and access your funds.
- Stop using the machine immediately if it seems difficult to insert your card.
- Monitor your account activity regularly and read your bank statements.
- Sign up for your bank's fraud alert notification.
- If in doubt, use another ATM.
Has your card been compromised?
Look for these warning signs as indications you may have been a victim of ATM skimming.
- Unauthorized charges or withdrawals on your card
- Unexpected credit cards or inquiries
- Calls from debt collectors about debts you're unaware of
What to do if your card is compromised
If you suspect your card has been compromised, immediately contact Synovus or your card's issuing financial institution to activate fraud controls on your account and begin the restitution process if applicable. You should also take the following steps.
- File a report with your local law enforcement agency.
- Visit The Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov page to file a report. Your incident details could help bring down large, organized fraud rings and prevent others from becoming victims.
- Continue to check your card statement regularly for fraudulent charges or suspicious activity.
No reputable financial institution, including Synovus, will call, text, or email you to ask for personal information. If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, call 1-888-SYNOVUS (1-888-796-6887) immediately.
Important disclosure information
This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
- Federal Bureau of Investigations, “Skimming – FBI” Back
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