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ATM Safety: Common Sense Tips for Combating Crooks

The article below comes from the FDIC Consumer News website. Click here if you'd like to view the article via the FDIC website.

ATM Safety: Common Sense Tips for Combating Crooks
ATM manufacturers and financial institutions go to great lengths to prevent robberies and fraud at cash dispensing machines. They place ATMs in safe locations, light them well, and use a variety of security measures. Many banks also limit the amount of cash that can be withdrawn each day so that a thief can't quickly clean out an account. Even so, not all ATM crimes can be prevented.

We hope you'll never be the victim or the target of an ATM theft or fraud. However, we also know that one of the best ways to stack the odds in your favor is to learn some self-defense. That's why FDIC Consumer News offers these safety suggestions:

Protect your ATM card.
Know where it is at all times and keep it secure. Carry only the cards — debit or credit — you think you'll need. The fewer cards you carry, the less likely they'll be lost or stolen and used in a fraud attempt. Destroy old or expired ATM cards. Be sure to cut through the account number and magnetic strip before disposing of a card.

Safeguard your personal identification number (PIN).
Never write your PIN on your card or on a piece of paper you keep near your card. Memorize it instead. "If a thief finds or steals your ATM card and your PIN, it's like you've opened up your bank account and offered free samples," says Janet Kincaid, FDIC Senior Consumer Affairs Officer.

Don't share your PIN with anyone — not even a relative who isn't a co-owner of your account. Beware of deceptive calls or e-mails from crooks claiming to be from your bank or the police asking you to "verify" (divulge) your PIN. Make sure that no one can easily see your PIN as you enter it at the ATM keypad.

Choose an ATM carefully and use common sense.
Be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night. Avoid ATMs in dark or remote areas or where people seem to be loitering.

Walk away if you notice something suspicious. Michael Benardo, a manager in the FDIC's Technology Supervision Branch, gives these examples of fraudulent recording devices found at ATMs: unusual-looking devices attached over the card slots of machines for "skimming"or gathering information from the magnetic strip on the back of the card; transparent overlays on ATM keypads that can record PINs; and tiny cameras hidden behind innocent-looking brochure holders and focused on where ATM users enter their PINs. Also go elsewhere if you see a sign directing you to only one of multiple ATMs — it could be the machine that was tampered with by a crook.

There are even reports of crooks installing "card cleaners" at an ATM. "These are really just skimming devices that capture account information, and the only cleaning they're used for is to clean out someone's account," says Benardo.

Also protect your ATM card when you use it to make purchases at retail establishments. For example, if you give an employee your card and you notice that he or she swipes it through two devices instead of one, that second device could be recording your account information for use in making a fraudulent card. Report that situation to a manager and your card issuer.

Note: Some ATMs belong to non-banking companies or even individuals, not to banks or other depository institutions. While a privately owned ATM may be safe to use, "for the consumer, there's more uncertainty about who these companies are, whether they are legitimate or whether they're being audited or regulated by the government on an ongoing basis," Benardo says. He notes, for example, reports of dishonest ATM owners collecting card numbers for use in making duplicate cards and committing fraud. In general, your safest bet is to use an ATM owned by a federally insured banking institution. If you are considering using a private ATM, stick to one at a trusted merchant and make sure the ATM's owner is clearly identified.

Withdraw cash safely.
Have your ATM card in your hand as you approach the ATM. When you collect your cash, immediately put it into your pocket or purse and count it later in private. Take your receipt and keep moving. The idea is to give a would-be robber less time to target you and steal your cash, wallet or purse.

What if you drive to an ATM? It's a good idea to use a drive-up ATM at a bank office or branch. Keep the engine running, lock all doors and roll up the passenger-side windows. If it's night-time and a drive-up machine isn't available, park in a well-lit area close to the ATM and, if possible, take another person with you.

Promptly report anything suspicious.
Immediately notify your bank if your ATM card is lost or stolen; you notice a recording device or something else suspicious at a machine; or you receive an unsolicited call or e-mail asking for personal information, such as your account number and PIN. Also, immediately notify your card issuer about an unauthorized ATM or debit card transaction on your account. Remember that the faster you report a problem, the greater your federal protections are (see "Laws Protecting ATM Users"). Early notice also may be key in catching the crooks.

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