ATM skimmers have been around for decades. Security experts have long warned us about these devices, which use technology attached to an Automated Teller Machine or a Point-of-Sale terminal to steal information from consumers as they enter data.
The technology has usually been crude — one tactic has been to stick a device to the outside of an ATM located in a casino or convenience store, with crooks often putting an “Out of order” sign on nearby ATMs to direct victims to use a single machine. Thieves would collect data for a few days, then move the device somewhere else and start all over again. Often, cameras would be mounted nearby, recording the keystrokes when consumers entered their Personal Identification Numbers.
But the technological arms race between crooks and security-minded companies has yielded new technologies, and with it more brazen activities to get your money. One piece of technology uses a device installed inside the machine, making it undetectable unless the machine is opened. The tech website Gizmodo.com wrote last month about how these devices are starting to proliferate in the U.S. Skimming activities reap billions each year for thieves, U.S. Secret Service notes.
And for us here in the Magnolia State, it has hit home with a vengeance recently.Several skimming devices have been found inside ATMs and gas pumps at metro-area gas stations, putting law enforcement on alert. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood issued a news release last week to warn Mississippians about the danger.
“These devices may go undetected for weeks, all the while gathering sensitive account information from unsuspecting consumers,” Hood said. “Consumers need to call their financial institutions immediately if they see any unauthorized activity on their accounts, and watch closely for signs of tampering when using gas pumps or ATMs. In the meantime, our office will continue working with other law enforcement agencies in Mississippi to shut down this type of crime.”
Although ATM operators and financial institutions are taking action to protect the ATMs from tampering, Hood suggested some actions you and I can take to avoid becoming a victim:
- Use pumps closer to the entrance to the service station or convenience store. Skimmers generally target pumps that are most isolated from security.
- Avoid paying at the pump. Go into the store and pay the attendant directly.
- If you’re using a debit card, select the “Credit” option, rather than the “Debit” option. This will avoid the possibility of thieves getting your Personal Identification Number.
- Check with your gas station management as to how they’re checking for devices.
The online security website Krebs.com also recommends that you cover your hand if entering your PIN, to avoid your PIN being recorded by a nearby camera. Always use a wall-mounted bank ATM, rather than a stand-alone device, and never use an ATM located in a secluded spot, especially at night.
And as always, keep a close eye on your bank account balances and activities. The sooner you identify and report suspicious activity, the better.