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How To Protect Yourself At The ATM

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How To Protect Yourself At The ATM


When you use a physical ATM, you risk fraud. ATM skimming and shimming are common tactics used by fraudsters to steal information from ATM cards, debit cards, and credit cards. Skimming involves stealing data from the magnetic stripe of the card, while shimming captures data from the EMV chip. These methods can result in thieves producing fake cards with your banking information, unauthorized spending, or cash being taken directly from bank accounts.

In 2023, compromised cards were up 96% from 2022, with over 315,000 compromised, costing consumers and financial institutions more than $1 billion annually. California has the highest incidence of skimming scams, accounting for over 47% of all cases. Read on to learn how to protect yourself and your money.


How Your Data is Stolen


Fraudsters will make physical changes to ATMs to steal your data, such as placing:

  • A plastic overlay on the ATM keypad to capture PINs as they are entered.
  • Tiny cameras on the ATM to record keypad entries as you type.
  • Overlays that cover the whole ATM faceplate with embedded cameras.
  • An overlay on the card insertion slot to capture the data from the magnetic stripe.

Check the ATM for Tampering


When you approach an ATM, look for signs of tampering. ATMs are solidly constructed and generally don't have any jiggling or loose parts, so examine and wiggle the various parts of the ATM to see if things don’t look quite right. The most frequently tampered areas are the card reader and the keypad. Consider these checks:

  • Look at the overall machine. Does the color and the material it's made from look different, or do the graphics not align? 
  • Does the keyboard look loose or seem thicker than usual, and is it just one piece?
  • Is there tape or sticky glue residue on any part of the ATM?
  • Does the card entry slot look different, lack a flashing light, or seem bulkier?
  • Do any parts move when you push or pull them?

If you see any of these things, do not use the ATM. If you're at the branch, we'd appreciate it if you came in to tell one of our member service reps.


Steps You Can Take When Making ATM Transactions


Wiggle your card as you insert it in the card entry slot. Skimmers read the magnetic stripe as the card is inserted, so give the card a wiggle as you insert it. Wiggling the card as you enter it in the slot won't interfere with your transaction but will foil the skimmer.

Cover the keypad with your hand when you enter your PIN. This prevents hidden cameras or onlookers from capturing your PIN.

Don’t use ATMs in remote areas. Fraudsters find it easier to tamper with machines that aren’t in busy locations.

Use the ATM before the weekend.Skimming is more common on weekends when banks are closed.

Prefer chip or contactless transactions over magnetic stripe: This method is more secure and harder to skim. Remember that your LA Financial debit card has the same protection as a chip card, so it’s always a secure way to pay.

Report issues as soon as possible. If the ATM doesn’t immediately return your card after the transaction or you see suspicious transactions on your statements, report them immediately. 

Set up alerts on your card. Register your debit card in Online Banking under Cards > Debit Card alerts to receive real-time fraud alerts. You can also choose the type of alerts or controls you want on your card in Online Banking under Tools > Alerts > Card > Card Authorization > Manage > Click on your active card > Manage Card Alerts


LA Financial is Always Here to Help


If your card data does get stolen, take heart. If you report the theft immediately, you will not be held liable for the lost amount, and your money will be returned. LA Financial Credit Union has active fraud detection policies and will contact you if suspicious activity is detected by phone or SMS if we notice something suspicious. Your quick response can prevent further financial damage to your account. Always trust your instincts—if something feels off about the ATM, don’t use it.

By staying vigilant and following these tips, you can protect yourself and your finances from ATM fraud.