4 Simple, Low-Cost Steps to Prevent ATM Skimming

September 24, 2015

In recent months and just this week, consumers throughout the Midwest are falling victim to widespread fraud, with skimming devices stealing data via ATMs owned by banks, credit unions and private businesses. Right here in our home state of Wisconsin, seven skimming devices were found at various ATMs in the Madison area, and five were found on a credit union’s ATMs in the southeastern part of the state.

Skimming devices that often include microchips fit over and within the ATM’s card reader, capturing cardholders’ data via the magnetic strip. Another device can fit over the ATM keypad or appear in the form of a camera above the keypad, recording a customer’s personal identification number (PIN). Thieves harvest the stolen data and create fake debit cards, which are then used to steal funds from consumers’ bank accounts.

Banks and credit unions often don’t know the skimming device is there until fraudulent debit card activity begins to show up on customers’ accounts. But with greater vigilance, these institutions can completely prevent ATM skimming or catch it much earlier in the game, said Patrick Paquin, CEO of J&P Site Experts in West Bend, Wis.

“ATM owners sometimes don’t know that there are several simple ways to prevent or minimize ATM fraud,” Paquin said. “Most of these measures cost nothing or very little.”

He recommends that financial institutions and any business that houses an ATM remember the following ATM skimming prevention tips to stop fraud:

  • Physically inspect all ATMs three to four times a day, and do so at different times of the day. If a thief knows the ATM inspection schedule, a skimming device can still be installed for a short window of time — enough to compromise customers’ data. Conduct inspections of the exterior in the morning, afternoon and evening, looking for signs of tampering and any residue on the ATM. Record the times that the ATM was checked so that if a skimming device is found, it’s easier to ID the thief when going through video surveillance.
  • Post a sign or use the ATM screen to let ATM visitors know the machine is being inspected throughout the day and monitored for fraud. Sometimes, this is all that’s necessary to ward off data thieves.
  • If you don’t have them already, install security cameras to capture video of those who visit the ATM. Inspect the cameras regularly to ensure they’re working properly, and make sure nothing is obstructing their line of view to the area around the ATM. Also keep the area well-lit.
  • Routinely use ATM cleaning cards to keep the card reader functionally optimally. Inexpensive cleaning cards often will catch skimming devices within the card drive, or at least raise a red flag that an ATM has been tampered with.
  • Be open and honest with customers, and recruit their help. Consumers should be on the lookout for anything unusual in terms of the ATM display.

“Following these steps is a way to start small but go big,” Paquin said. “Common sense often prevails.”

Of course, there’s always the possibility that a sophisticated scammer will use a skimming device or insert a microchip that’s difficult to detect, and in that case, it’s important to involve your security team to minimize losses for both the financial institution and its customers, Paquin said. And if you have a problem at one machine, there’s a good chance the criminal hit your other machines, so inspect your machines at all locations.

New technology and upgrades are available to further protect ATMs from fraud, Paquin said. Contact J&P to discuss what types of solutions would work for your particular ATM model. J&P also sells ATM cleaning cards that work on a variety of machine types.