Tips for Reducing Your Chances of ATM Debit Card Data Theft

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

Withdrawing cash from an ATM is quick and simple, but there are plenty of risks. If you’re not careful, you could become the victim of debit card data theft. In fact, FICO reports this type of theft has reached a 20-year high.

“According to a recent FICO report, in the first five months of 2015, thieves have been installing skimming devices in ATM machines at breakneck speed and stealing significant numbers of payment card and PIN numbers. These skim artists use the purloined data to create counterfeit cards in order to facilitate both online and in-store purchases as well as drain cash from victims’ bank accounts….ATMs are the target of choice because they offer low-risk access to data with the promise of a big pay day,” said Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of and Identity Theft 911.

The rise in this type of crime is due in part to the fact that financial institutions are gearing up to make room for chip cards. This is not surprising considering experts had predicted there would be a spike in financial fraud in response to the cards. Thieves are using whatever time they have left to commit last-minute acts of fraud before security gets tighter.

“Everyone has lost focus on ATM fraud because, to some extent, we rarely hear about anything other than large-scale data breaches that involve major U.S retailers or banks. That’s sad because almost all of us have little to no exposure if our credit card information is stolen because of the aggressive protection of the Fair Credit Billing Act, but have considerable exposure if our debit cards are compromised,’ said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at

Here are six ways to reduce your chances of becoming the victim of a data thief.

1. Use an ATM located inside the bank

If you think sticking with your bank’s ATM will solve the problem, that’s not necessarily going to help. Both bank and non-bank-owned ATMs are being targeted by crooks. However, Levin says you can reduce your chances of being hacked by using an ATM within a bank branch instead of one located inside a convenience store or outside of the bank.

2. Cover the keypad

It can be hard to tell if there are unauthorized cameras recording your PIN. It’s better to be safe than sorry and conceal your entry. Levin advises covering the keypad with one of your hands when entering your number so you can thwart scammers trying to capture your information with a camera hidden in the machine.

FICO ATM Card Fraud Chart2.jpg
Card and PIN points of compromise cases identified by FICO Card Alert Service. Source: 2015 FICO Card Alert Service.

3. Limit withdrawals

It’s easy to fall into a pattern of constantly withdrawing cash whenever you need to make a purchase. However, this is not such a great habit. Make an effort to keep withdrawals at a minimum so you can decrease your chances of encountering an ATM skimmer.

“Take out less frequent larger cash withdrawals either at the bank ATM or the teller window to reduce ATM visits and try to use official mobile banking apps,” suggested Levin.

 4. Use your debit card sparingly

Ulzheimer reminds consumers that credit cards have better protections than debit cards. Consequently, it’s generally best to use credit or cash for some purchases.

“You have zero fraud liability when the bank’s money is stolen from fraudulent use of your credit card. And yes, it’s the bank’s money that’s being stolen, not your money.  When someone steals your debit card information it’s your money that’s being stolen. While you’re likely to get it back eventually, it won’t be immediate, which means other transactions may not clear because of your lower balance,” said Ulzheimer.

5. Strengthen usernames and passwords

Take the time to think of creative usernames and passwords that are hard to guess. Also refrain from the urge to reuse login information once you do come up with something. Reusing this information will put you at risk for compromising all of your accounts if a hacker gets just one username and password combination.

“Create usernames and passwords that are long, strong, and not easily decipherable even by those who know you, and never save them in your smartphone,” warns Levin.

6. Keep tabs on your account

Check your financial accounts regularly so that you can keep an eye on any suspicious activity. The sooner you flag a problem, the sooner it can be resolved.

“Be sure to check your accounts daily and enroll in transactional monitoring programs offered by banks and credit unions that will notify you of any and all activity in your accounts,” said Levin.
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