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The vast majority of ATM transactions are conducted safely and securely, but ATM fraud can and does happen. A common technique used by thieves to obtain your debit card information and PIN at ATMs is skimming. ATM skimming occurs when thieves use hidden electronics or technology on ATM machines to steal card info. With your card’s information in hand, scammers can empty your checking or savings account.

What to Look For

Skimming overlay devices. These devices are placed over the card slot. When a card is inserted into the ATM slot, the device records the card’s magnetic strip data.

Shimming technology. Thieves have more recently developed “shimming” technology, where they install a thin, card-size device with a microchip into the card slot. This device isn’t visible from the outside of the ATM and steals information that allows the thief to clone your card.

Keypad overlays. These devices placed over an ATM’s keypad can capture PINs as they’re entered.

Tiny cameras. Cameras are used in conjunction with the skimming or shimming device. The camera is placed in a location on the ATM to record the user entering the PIN. Some thieves even use cameras with thermal imaging to see the numbers and order in which you pressed them.

These days, many skimming devices transmit information back to fraudsters using Bluetooth technology. However, it’s possible that some crooks could still be watching you enter your PIN with binoculars or by looking over your shoulder, so don’t let your guard down. Be especially wary of anyone offering to “help” you use the ATM. There are some precautions you can take to stay safe.

What You Can Do

  1. Watch for signs that the ATM may have been altered. Does the ATM have parts that look crooked, misplaced or damaged? If you pull on the card reader, does it come loose? If you push buttons on the keypad, do they feel loose or spongy? These are all warning signs of potential tampering.
  2. Visit high-traffic and high-profile ATMs. ATMs in well-lit areas such as a store or lobby are safer than those that are standalone. Scammers want to stay out of view when installing and collecting their technology.
  3. Cover your hand when entering your PIN. This should be done even if you don’t see anyone or anything suspicious. A hidden camera may be viewing the keypad even if you aren’t aware of it. You can also be sure to rest your fingers on the plastic keypad. This will obscure your PIN from thermal cameras.
  4. Be observant of your surroundings. Stand directly in front of the ATM while using it and watch for anyone standing too close.
  5. Be wary of suspicious Bluetooth signals. You can download free scanning apps that detect suspicious Bluetooth signals and alert you to potential skimmers.
  6. Check your accounts regularly. There’s a chance you may not notice a compromised ATM until your information has already been stolen. Regularly check your account statements and set up fraud alerts to be alerted of any fraud right away.

Your Security Is a Priority

At Navy Federal, our member security comes first. Enjoy extra protection from reported, unauthorized purchases with the Navy Federal Zero Liability policy. If you suspect a skimming device has been installed on a Navy Federal ATM, please contact us immediately at 1-888-842-6328 with the location of the ATM. Visit our Security Center page to learn more ATM security tips.

This article is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.