How to Protect Yourself from ATM Skimmers

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Criminals are constantly finding new ways to steal the personal financial information of unsuspecting individuals during everyday tasks such as pumping gas or depositing money at a financial institution. While the technology they use for their skimming devices and accompanying tools is always evolving, having basic knowledge of this technique is important.

Here, we’ll cover the devices being used and how to spot them so you can keep your information safe.


Skimming devices are used to steal the bank account information from an individual’s ATM card and store it until it can be downloaded or wirelessly transferred. These devices look like the machine’s original card reader and fit right on top of it. However, some are inserted directly into the card reader or placed inside the terminal or along exposed cables. Criminals target ATMs and point-of-sale terminals, such as those found at the gas pump.

How to protect yourself

  • Inspect ATMs or POS terminals before inserting your card into the card reader. Look for anything loose, crooked, damaged, or scratched. Also pay close attention to the color of the card reader; a slight variation in color could be a skimmer.
  • You can also spot a skimmer by its shape. The original card reader is usually concave (curving inward) while the skimmer is more convex (curving outward).
  • Use cards with chip technology, as there are more skimming devices that steal magnetic strip data than those that steal chip data.
  • Use a credit card rather than a debit card, especially if you have linked accounts.

atm example

This photo from the FBI illustrates the placement of skimmers and other devices used to steal personal financial information.

Hidden Camera

Criminals often pair skimmers with concealed pinhole cameras to record a customer entering their PIN. They then use the PIN, along with a card they create, or they sell it on the black market for others to use at your expense. The placement of these cameras can vary greatly, and they can be easily missed.

How to protect yourself

  • Carefully inspect the machine before using it. Check the front of the ATM for phony ATM parts on or above the screen (parts that you’ve never seen on that machine before) and pay attention to light fixtures that look off.
  • Cover the keypad with your hand when typing in your PIN to hide it from view.

Keypad Overlay

Sometimes, criminals use keypad overlays to steal an individual’s PIN rather than a pinhole camera. These overlays are placed on top of the original keypad to record keystrokes. In this case, it’s very important to take some extra precautions before using the ATM to protect your personal information.

How to protect yourself

  • Pull at the edges of the keypad before entering your PIN. Don’t use it if you’re able to move any portion of it.
  • If the keypad looks newer than the rest of the ATM then it could be an overlay.

If you see anything that looks off on an ATM or other POS terminal, notify the financial institution or business that owns it so they can address the issue immediately. This will help keep your financial information, and the financial information of others, safe.

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation

McCoy FCU 10/19/2022