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ATM skimmers: some measures

November 21, 2012


OVER the past one month, a number of letters have appeared in these columns from ordinary ATM user anxious about skimming devices installed on ATM machines. Card skimming is the illegal copying of information from the magnetic strip of a credit or ATM card. It is a more direct version of phishing scam. The scammers try to steal your details so they can access your accounts. Once scammers have skimmed your card, they can create a fake or cloned card with your details on it. The scammer is then able to run up charges on your account. Card skimming is also a way for scammers to steal your identity and use it to commit identity fraud. By stealing your personal details and account numbers, the scammer may be able to borrow money or take out loans in your name.

Skimming machines are attached to the ATM card entry slot and a separate miniature pinhole camera is hidden overlooking the PIN pad. This enables the criminal to create a counterfeit cash card to withdraw money at ATM machines using the legitimate PIN. These skimming machines are often highly sophisticated and are made to look as if they are part of the ATM machine itself. The skimming machine may only be placed on an ATM machine for a short period of time, while the fraudsters remain nearby.

When the fraudsters eventually take the skimming machines off, they will move to another cash card machine and do the same again. Sometimes criminals look over a cardholder’s shoulder to watch the PIN being entered and then steal the cash card, either by distracting the victim or by pick pocketing.

A popular distraction technique is dropping money on the floor and pointing out to the victim at the ATM machine that they have dropped it.

Another form is employment of a device into an ATM machine’s cash card slot which then retains the cash cards inside the ATM machine.

The victims are tricked into re-entering the PIN, while the criminal watches, maybe thinking that there is a genuine problem with the ATM machine. After the cardholder gives up and leaves the ATM machine, the criminal then removes the device which holds the cash card, and withdraws cash with the PIN he has just learned.

Following are some basic points to follow to keep you safe from ATM skimming:

Never keep your credit card or debit card and PIN number together. Do not let others see your PIN number, and be aware of other people behind you at ATM machines.

Try to cover your typing hand when keying in your PIN. Do not approach an ATM if suspicious persons are nearby. Never accept help from people you do not know while conducting transactions at an ATM. Carefully look around you before beginning to conduct a transaction. Never trust people you do not know asking for help. This may be a ploy to distract you while their accomplice steals your card and money. Do not forget to retrieve your card and receipt from the ATM when your transaction has been completed.

If you suspect a skimming machine has been placed on an ATM machine do not try to remove it yourself, as suspects may use violence. Instead, call the police or contact the bank immediately.

The State Bank of Pakistan may instruct all commercial banks to form a separate fund for people affected by this crime or ensure insurance of such deeds. Money lost from such activity should be paid out from this fund and banks should inform the clients through print media that they would not be held responsible for such activity as providing secure environment is ultimate responsibility of the bank.

I request the victims of such activity in Pakistan to please inform us at so that risk managers may take up the issue collectively to prepare a strategy for future.