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Security at the ATM

ATM’s are a part of everyday life in a cash based economy. Most of us deposit and withdraw cash from these automatic teller machines many times a week without giving it a second thought. We have written this blog to help you ensure your experience of using ATM’s remains a safe and easy process.

The two main types of crime associates with ATM theft are:

1) Card skimming

2) Physical card & cash theft

Card skimming

How does card skimming work?

Like legitimate card readers inside ATMs throughout the country, an ATM skimmer device captures a variety of card data, including the account number and chip details. These alone are enough to make a ‘clone card’.

As well as the details gathered from the card reader, thieves will also require your pin. There are two ways in which this can occur

1) Pin pad facing camera. This camera may be pinhole size and might be glued either right next to the pin pad, or somewhere else on the ATM which allows a full view of the pin pad.

2) A Pin pad overlay device. These devices are placed over the top of either the pin pad or the whole ATM face and are very hard to notice. They are more technical than the camera solution and work by recording the buttons you press, as you press them.

The information recorded is either stored on a flash drive to be collected later or transmitted wirelessly by Wifi, bluetooth or SMS to the criminal. This information is then grouped with hundreds of other stolen card details and sold in criminal bazaars online, to be imprinted on counterfeit cards and used anywhere in the world.

How to prevent card skimming

  • Check if something about the ATM looks out of place - Does the pin pad look thicker than normal? Is there a colour, material or style discrepancy between different parts of the ATM’s face?

  • Make sure you take extra care to cover the pin pad when entering your details. The hidden camera may be very close to the pad itself, however taking the extra precaution to cover your pin while entering the numbers will help minimise the chances of a camera (or someone) seeing the number you are entering.

  • Check if the card reader or the pin pad is loose or if it looks thicker than normal. This could be a sign that an overlay has been added.

  • Pay particular attention to, and avoid where possible, isolated ATMs which are under little or no surveillance. These are often the easiest to target both in terms of attaching skimming devices but also for theft of any money post withdrawal.

A typical example of an ATM skimmer

Physical theft at the ATM

Much simpler than card skimming, ATM theft is where a criminal will steal your card or cash at the ATM itself. Criminals know you are either depositing or withdrawing money at the ATM as a result, have a near guarantee that you will be carrying cash on you.

How can you avoid this?

  • As with skimming, be particularly caution of isolated ATMs where there is little or no surveillance. Where possible, avoid using these ATMs, but if you are in a situation where you have to use them, be sure to limit the amount of money you are withdrawing to minimise risk.

  • Be aware of who is behind and around you at the time of using the ATM. If you see anyone or anything suspicious, cancel your transaction and leave immediately. If anyone follows you after making a transaction, go to a crowded, well-lit area and call the police or your security company.

  • Avoid following a routine, especially if you are using an ATM to deposit daily or weekly banking. When using the ATM, think about where are you counting your cash. Put your cash, card and receipt away immediately. Count your money later and always keep your receipt.

  • Limit the amount of cash you withdraw or deposit in one go. Remember that the reality of wealth distribution in Africa is that what may seem like just enough cash for a nice meal out with you and your partner may be a monthly living wage for someone else. Don't draw attention to yourself.

  • Memorise your pin number and do not have it written down on your card or anywhere else on your person.

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