Card Trapping – The Lebanese Loop Scam

three credit cards protrude from a card holder and two of these bear one the visa and the other the mastercard logo

Card Trapping, also known as the Lebanese Loop, is an ATM scam (also involving Payment Terminals and TVMs) that ensures your card is not returned by the card slot at the end of a transaction.

The name “Lebanese Loop” is due to its origins, although it has also spread among other countries criminal groups.

Please note that even though we’re classifying it as a tourist scam, it might indiscriminately target anyone using tampered ATM, as well as Payment Terminals and Ticket Vending Machines (like those at train stations or gas pumps, for example).

Be sure to check the Extras and Thoughts and ATM Related Scams at the end to learn more.

1) How it Works

The Device

In the Lebanese Loop, similar to Shims (click here to read about them), the trapping device is usually placed inside the card reader of a legitimate ATM. 

It can be a strip of metal or plastic, or even something as simple as a piece of videotape. Rarely, the entire ATM cover might be a counterfeit, placed over the original machine with the sole purpose of trapping users’ cards.

Card Insertion and PIN Entry

When the victim inserts their card into the ATM, the loop is long and narrow enough to allow the machine to completely draw in the card and read it.

The victim then enters their Personal Identification Number (PIN) as usual and requests funds.

Card Blocking and Results

When the machine attempts to eject the card, the loop device prevents the card from being ejected. Detecting that the card has not been ejected the ATM retracts it back inside. The cash drawer does not open, and the counted money is retained by the machine. Usually, no funds are debited from the victim’s account.

This is how the scammers get hold of victims’ cards. To acquire the PIN codes, they might employ a hidden camera, or a jammed keyboard placed on the original one, or even a seemingly helpful bystander who tries to get close enough while offering help during your transaction.

You may not notice anything amiss until the end of your transaction, as the scammers need to register or collect your PIN to use your trapped card. Once your card doesn’t come out and you’ll leave, the criminals will retrieve the card.

someoune is using an atm and inserting the card in the atm card slot
We always take for granted that the card will come back. (Credit - Peggy_Marco via Pixabay)

2) What You Risk

If you find yourself unable to retrieve your card, it’s best to block the “trapped” card immediately. If you don’t, the scammers may gain access to your card and use it for withdrawals and payments.

Even without the PIN, they could potentially use the contactless payments feature on the chip.

3) How to Avoid it

Just like with Skimmers, stay vigilant for any signs of tampering with the machines you are going to use. 

Particularly, scan the upper corners for hidden cameras and inspect the keypadAlso, stay alert for potential Friendly Faces (here to read more about them) who get too close. 

These are the most common methods used to acquire the PINs of victims.

Before inserting your card, you can run your finger along the card slot. You might be able to feel the small bumps of some loop device

Pay attention to any unusual resistance when trying to insert your card into the reader as this could indicate the presence of traps or Shimmers.

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

In Case Your Card Gets Trapped

If it is nearby and you can do so without going too far from the machine, try to contact the ATM operator or owner (be it a shop, bank, financial institution, or else).

Otherwise, If the ATM cover appears legitimate, you can try to contact the support numbers listed on the machine. However, remain cautious of any signs that these contacts may have been tampered with in the past, as this could lead you into a Fake Helpline scam. Additionally, be aware that support may not be available in your language or even in English.

Do not leave the ATM until your card is returned or contact your bank to report the possible fraudulent activity and block it. This part is crucial as once they retrieve your card, the scammers know they have a limited time to use it as much as possible before it gets blocked.

old anonymous ATM with graffiti and stickers on the cover
What if this old boy doesn’t return your card? (Credit - ErikMclean via Pexels)

4) ATM Related Scams

5) Extras And Thoughts

The risk of falling for a Lebanese Loop scam heavily depends on the country, the areas, and even the ATM or Payment Machines, both from hardware and software points of view, that we are going to use.

Some systems, for example, provide for the real withdrawal of the card by the machine after a certain number of failed attempts to eject it.

Even if a card is retained, it does not necessarily mean that you have fallen for a scam because it could be a malfunction of the machine or a problem with the inserted card.

Nevertheless, in all situations, especially those in which we hear the card slots make the typical noise of extracting the card, stop abruptly, and try again in loop (hence perhaps the name but I’m not sure), we should always seriously consider the possibility of having fallen into this scam.

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 rest of the scams (you can find them in the ATM Related Scams section of this article, or under the Card Reader Scams tag), and the general tips (coming soon).

Although relatively rare, this kind of scams could happen to anyone, not just tourists. It’s just more likely to affect foreigners who may not know the safest areas or which machines to avoid.

It’s probably not only related to ATMs but any automatic payment column working with a card and PIN (like Payment Terminals at gas stations and Ticket Purchase Terminals at train stations).

Remember; the more you know, the better.

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