Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Practical steps to PIN security when ATM skimming threatens

It’s called ATM skimming. Without realizing it, while you are cashing at an ATM, someone could be spying on you through several ways and hours later, your money will become his. It’s a low risk crime. It practically involves eavesdropping on people’s ATM transactions with intent to capture his/her PIN number in order to gain access to their accounts using a cloned ATM or debit card.

The practice is not new but it keeps on evolving as security agents keep getting to tabs with the crime.

Some of the ways ATM skimmers operate are:

  1. Using a surveillance camera.
  2. This is the usual practice because the cameras are cheap and easy to install. Without knowing it, while cashing, the cameras are filming your transaction and storing it in a memory or sending it through radio link to a car parked nearby.

  3.  Pin Pad Overlays.
  4. These are pads that resemble the ATM keyboard itself. They can be placed on top of the keys. While inserting your PIN details, the microchip on it will be recording your transaction. It’s the most efficient form of ATM skimming but the pads are very expensive.

    Pin pad overlays like this can fool any bank customer.

  5. Using audio recorders. This is rarely common but if there is an audiophile who can distinguish the different sounds of each key, then this mode of ATM skimming is practically a walk to the bank. 
What is against ATM skimmers is that the devices used have low battery life, so they usually lurk around the ATM machine. This disadvantage makes ATM skimming practically more effective early in the morning hours or late in the day, when it is getting dark or night has approached so that when they are lurking, their presence will not easily be noticed by bank security officers.

Bank security officers are no foolproof against determined skimmers, but better something than no assurance.

If your PIN is compromised, your bank won't be responsible.

There are several ways you can protect yourself. These measures are purely preventive in nature. Remember, when you signed the agreement with your banker for an ATM card, you indemnified him against any loss of your money in case someone gets hold of your PIN.

Some precautions you can take against PIN theft is:

  • When making an ATM transaction, cover your hands with one hand. A camera may be nearby. Some persons have found this inconvenient but it is the safest measure if there is a camera recording your every keystrokes. It is doubly discomforting if someone is behind you who wants to use the ATM such that you have to be covering your keystrokes and shielding your actions from that persons view. This is a fact of life. 
  •  Don’t use ATMs that are placed in dark corners or where people do not usually frequent. If not skimmed, you could literally be robbed. 
  • If you think a machine has been tampered with, report to bank officials. Don’t even use it at all. 
  • Advise your banker to use an ATM machine with anti-skim features. They are now available. 
  • Some banks employ low paid workers and security men to patrol the grounds for signs of suspicious characters. A determined ATM skimmer though can evade the system.
  • As in life and everything else, change is inevitable. Try to change your PIN on a regular basis.

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