ATM Cash Trapping: a Quick Overview

An open cash dispenser of an ATM with banknotes inside

Cash Trapping is a form of ATM fraud that targets unsuspecting users during their transactions. Unlike Card Trapping (click here to read about), this scam focuses on the cash dispensed by the ATM rather than the card itself.

Please note that even though we’re classifying it as a tourist scam, it might indiscriminately target anyone using tampered ATMs. Be sure to check the Extras and Thoughts and ATM&Co Related Posts at the end to learn more.

1) How it Works

In this scam, a tampering device is discreetly installed into the cash dispensing slot of a legitimate ATM. The tool is designed to trap the funds inside the machine, preventing them from being dispensed to the user.

Criminals will then lurk nearby, waiting for their next victim to use the machine.

Subsequent users will carry out their transaction as usual, entering their PIN and requesting a withdrawal. However, when the ATM attempts to release the cash, the trapping device prevents it from doing so. 

The unsuspecting victim, assuming the ATM is faulty, will ideally leave the machine without receiving their withdrawal. Once the coast is clear, the scammer returns to the ATM, removes the device, and retrieves the trapped funds.

2) What You Risk

While annoying and potentially stressful, compared to others ATM scams, Cash Trapping is likely the least damaging in terms of potential loss. 

If you fall victim to this scam, you risk losing “only” the amount of cash you attempted to withdraw.

3) How to Avoid It

Among the scams in this series, Cash Trapping is, at least in theory, the easiest to recognize. However, if you do recognize it, it likely means your money has already been trapped. 

  • As a rule of thumb, before using an ATM that’s new to you, try to ensure it works properly. You can do this by asking local shopkeepers or by watching locals use it successfully.
  • Be observant; in Cash Trapping, scammers MUST lurk around and keep an eye on the tampered ATM to quickly retrieve the money once the victim leaves.
  • Before using any ATM, inspect the machine for any signs of tampering, especially around the cash dispensing slot. If the machine appears to be tampered with, it could be a red flag for this or other scams.
  • If the ATM fails to dispense cash after a successful transaction, it’s crucial to act quickly. Immediately contact your bank and report the incident. Also, try to get in touch with the ATM operator/owner, such as the bank or other institution that owns and operates the machine (better if nearby), and have them investigate the issue (it could also be a malfunction).

If you think you have been a victim of this scam, and if you can, report the incident to local law enforcement too.

For more advice on how to prevent most ATM scams or at least limit the damage, check out the rest of our series and the general tips (6 + 1 Ways to Prevent Card Reader and ATM Scams) below.

4) ATM&Co Related Posts

5) Extras And Thoughts

Encountering Cash Trapping, like most ATM scams, largely depends on the country and the security measures in place. These measures include both the software and hardware of the machines, as well as the location and the owners of the ATMs. While most banks and financial institutions have systems to detect and prevent such scams, it’s not a guarantee, and investigations and refunds can take time.

In this specific scenario, you might be tempted to pretend to leave, try to catch the scammers red-handed and reclaim your money. However, we strongly discourage this for several reasons:

Uncertainty: It might be hard to tell if it’s a scam or a simple malfunction. You could end up wasting time waiting for a scammer who never shows up.

Familiarity: Scammers likely know the area better than you do and ensure the coast is clear before they retrieve the trapped money.

Safety: This is the most important point. Cash Trapping scams usually involve less financial lost compared to other ATM scams. Also, you can’t predict how the criminals would react if caught in the act. Especially if you’re a tourist, unaccompanied by law enforcement, or if the tampered ATM is in a secluded area. Always ask yourself: is it worth risking my safety for some cash?”

About the ATM and Card Reader Scams Series

As with most of the articles in this series, please keep in mind that:

  • We’re trying to avoid redundancies, to learn more it’s advisable to read 6 + 1 Ways to Prevent Card Reader and ATM Scams and the rest of the scams (you can find them in the ATM&Co Related Posts section of this article). 
  • Although relatively rare, this kind of frauds could happen to anyone, not just tourists and travelers.

Remember, the more you know, the better.

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