Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are a dream when it comes to the convenience of getting cash fast. Some of us remember the days of having to wait in line with check in hand to retrieve your own cash. Although I do miss the free candy at the teller desk, immediate cash is much more gratifying, but with this wonderful ease comes new threats to our money.

The Statistics

Stealing ones personal information for gain is big business. Every year consumers lose nearly $1 billion due to ATM fraud. One in five victims of fraud said that they had their Personal Identification Number (PIN) stolen.

Tools of the Trade

Compromising an ATM is accomplished by the use of an ATM skimmer. A skimmer is a system that will both read a customers card number when it is inserted into the ATM and will also record the customers PIN. This is usually done by deploying a variety of technologies to accomplish the task which include but are not limited to false card swipes and covert cameras.

Retrieving a Card Number

ATM Skimmer 01Retrieving a debit or credit card number by using skimming technology is accomplished by placing a device over the existing card slot on the ATM. The false card slot is equipped with a card reader that records the customers information is it passes into the real ATM slot. After thousands of transactions have taken place, the criminal retrieves the skimming device and downloads all of the card numbers. Another variant of these devices allows the criminal to download the numbers remotely over a cellphone link.

Retrieving a PIN

Collecting a PIN number is usually done with a hidden camera. Finding the camera can be difficult because of the camouflage used. Many times the cameras will be mounted directly over the pin number input pad and will be made to look the machine itself  and other times the camera may be offset and will capture the PIN at an angle.

Hidden Camera

Although effective, all of these camera capture techniques can be easily defeated by simply covering the input pad while entering a PIN.

A PIN can also be recovered by manipulating the PIN pad itself. In many instances this is done by overlaying a false keypad over the top of the legitimate keypad. The false keypad then records each PIN as it is inputted in the machine. It may look similar to the system below.

Pad Skimmer

What Happens to Stolen Cards

Once the card number and PIN are collected, many things can happen. A criminal may collect this information and sell the database to the highest bidder, however he may decide to reproduce the cards himself and use the stolen PINs to steal cash. Regardless, the victim will end up with a headache, so be sure to read up on ways to protect yourself.