ATM Card Skimming; Don’t Let Your Vacation Get Skimmed!

A hand is using a keypad of an ATM

Card Skimmers are devices illicitly installed in ATMs card readers to copy the magnetic strip data of any financial card used.

They are one of those scams that often catches people off guard, especially when they are in a hurry or distracted, and for which one should instead take much caution and precaution.

Please note that even though we’re classifying it as a tourist scam, it might indiscriminately target anyone using tampered ATMs, as well as Payment terminals and Ticket Purchase Terminals or TVMs. Be sure to check the Extras and Thoughts and ATM&Co Related Scams at the end to learn more.

1) How it works

Card Skimmers are often found inside replicas of card readers covers that are placed or glued on top of the ATMs original ones.

These replicas are designed to look exactly like the original card readers, making them hard to spot. A device is hidden inside the replica, it consists of a magnetic head for data reading and copying, a converter, and a storage device for writing and saving the data.

Once a card is inserted into the ATM, the skimmer copies and stores the card data from its magnetic strip.

Less commonly, scammers might manufacture an entire replica of the machine’s cover to affix or glue over the original one of the targeted ATM or payment terminal. These fake covers are, of course, equipped with skimmers and a special keypad to record the PIN.

There are even models, known as Card Shimmers (coming soon), that can be placed inside the original card reader slot.

To capture the PIN, a jammed keypad or a hidden camera may have been installed in the ATM. These cameras are usually well-hidden and positioned to have a clear view of the keypad (like the upper corners of the machine).

Alternatively, a seemingly friendly local (check here about Friendly Faces) may try to get closer under some pretext. They might strike up a conversation or offer to help with the transaction, all while trying to catch a glimpse of your PIN as you enter it.

After victims are gone, scammers retrieve the device from the ATM and use the stolen data to clone their cards.

A fake atm card slot cover hiding a skimmer inside
A Fake Cover in which a Skimmer is Hidden. (Credit - Aaron Poffenberger via Flickr)

2) What you risk

If scammers manage to obtain your PIN and card’s magnetic strip data, they can clone your card and use it for withdrawals and payments.

3) How to avoid it

Always check for things that look off or suspicious in the terminal, such as a weird-looking panel or specific odd parts. 

Especially, check the card reader- if it doesn’t look perfectly fixed to the rest, test its solidity and make sure it doesn’t come off. Do the same for the keypad.

Cover the keypad as best as you can while typing the PIN. This should prevent people and hidden cameras from acquiring it, but it might be useless if a fake keypad has been installed over the original one to record it. 

Be careful of those who approach you while operating the ATM, in addition to trying to read your PIN they might try to scam you (like here, the Fake Currency Change Trick) or, at worse, rob you. 

For more and detailed advice on how to prevent this and other ATM scams or at least limit the damage, check out 6 + 1 Ways to Prevent Card Reader and ATM Scams from the list below.

a green atm card reader slot with a yellow credit card half inserted
An ATM Card Slot. (Credit - Wikimedia Commons)

4) ATM&Co Related Scams

5) Extras And Thoughts

Card Skimming, as many other scams on this list, is not a new phenomenon to authorities. In fact, anti-tampering models for ATMs, Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs), and Payment Terminals have become relatively widespread. 

These machines should be designed to make certain types of tampering more challenging but the risk always exists so we recommend always paying attention to details

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 the Ways to Prevent Card Reader and ATM Scams and the other scams (you can find them in the ATM&Co Related Scams section of this article, or under the Card Reader Scams tag).

Although relatively rare, this kind of scams could happen to anyone, tourists and non-tourists alike. It’s not only related to ATMs but any automatic payment column working with a card and PIN (like Payment Terminals at gas stations or Tickets Vending Machines at train stations). 

It’s simply more likely to affect foreigners who may not know the safest areas or which machines to avoid.

Remember; the more you know, the better.

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