How to Avoid ATM Scams While Traveling

Traveling is inherently fraught with some safety risks because part of safety is knowing how things are supposed to work so you can recognize what is sketchy. Going to a new city, you may get caught in a taxi scam, you will be stolen or your money will be stolen using an ATM skimmer. We spoke withDaniel Smith , a security researcher at cloud security company Radware , about how to avoid using unreliable ATM machines when traveling.

ATM card skimmers are a physical device that fraudsters attach to an ATM card reader by placing it on top or inside a card slot. They can’t read chips yet, but they can record the touch of the magnetic stripe. (They are common in the United States and Eastern Europe, Smith said.) The fraudster can then collect your debit card information and make purchases from your account. To avoid them, you should do the following:

Use a bank ATM

Cities like New York are full of third-party ATM machines in wine cellars, bars, and on the street. They can look very sketchy – or, if you’re drunk and out of cash, very seductive. These are real ATMs, but they are less likely to be protected by security cameras and guards, so it is easier for a fraudster to insert a skimmer.

Look for an ATM machine, Smith says, especially the one at the staffed bank branch. You need an ATM where a fraudster cannot stay unnoticed. If you have a chip card, look for an ATM that reads the chips rather than swiping your finger across the screen. Even if you use another bank’s ATM and pay the fees, you will still be better off than using a third-party ATM.

Bring cash

The fewer ATMs you use, the less likely you are to get into the ATM using a skimmer. So cash out. Not too much, of course; Walking around with a lot of money is a security risk. Enough that you don’t run miles from the bank in the middle of the night.

Bring an extra card

Smith uses several cards when traveling, one exclusively for ATMs and the other for purchases. Having a spare card means you don’t screw up if your bank needs to freeze one of your accounts. It also narrows down the chances of where your card was stolen, so you can avoid repeating it.

Stolen debit information is a bigger problem than stolen credit information. Debit cards will immediately withdraw money from your account. Banks are in no hurry to reimburse you for losses, and sometimes even refuse. Therefore, in automatic card readers (for example, at gas stations) use your credit card.

Wiggle slot

If you’re stuck using a less secure ATM machine, at least wiggle the card slot. If any part of it is loose or disconnected, do not use the machine and report it to the police or the owner of the ATM. But the wiggle test doesn’t protect you from all card skimmers. New skimmers fit into the card slot where they are much more difficult to spot. ( CNBC has photos. )

As always, you need to find a balance between safety and convenience. Sometimes you just need to grab $ 80 from a bar ATM. But the better you plan, the less often you will need to call about it. Plus, you don’t have to pay $ 3, which certainly looks like a scam.


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