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Ways to Avoid ATM Skimmers


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Key Terms and Phrases:

ATM: An ATM, or Automated Teller Machine, is an electronic banking device utilized to allow members to make basic transactions.

Fraudster: A “fraudster” is a person with malevolent intent, typically utilizing devious skills to scam others in business dealings.

ATM Skimmer: An ATM Skimmer is a malicious tool that fraudsters use on ATMs to compromise their victim’s banking information.

Fraud and scams come in many shapes and sizes. Some, even in the form of an ATM card reader.

Pioneer Valley Credit Union cares about its members’ and the community’s security and closely monitors its ATMs for malicious skimming devices. However, these devices can be placed on any ATM, such as in a convenience store or parking garage, and can compromise the user’s information. 

Once this information is stolen, the fraudster can use the data or even create replicated cards to make ATM cash withdrawals, online purchases or many other compromising transactions.

An unsuspecting victim will insert their card into the card reader and make a basic transaction. What the victim does not know, is that the fraudster has placed an ATM skimmer with the identical design as a legitimate ATM card slot over the actual slot with wicked intent. In the past, it was common for fraudsters to come back to the scene of the crime later to retrieve the device, making it easier for authorities or financial institutions to catch them in the act. With the evolution of modern tech, the fraudster is now able to transmit data wirelessly from the transaction, such as the card number.

Some fraudsters may take this a step further, placing an inconspicuous camera facing the PIN pad or even a number pad overlay, identical to the machine’s PIN pad, to capture footage or data of the unsuspecting victim punching it in. What’s worse is the victim may not even realize the scam has occurred until days or weeks later, after checking their statement.

It is vital for card users to understand that they are their greatest “first line of defense”. There are ways for card users to catch an ATM Skimmer before it is too late. Before inserting your card into the ATM card reader, grab ahold of the hardware and ensure it is not loose. An ATM skimmer is typically easy to come loose, will flex to a squeeze or even pop off with the right amount of pressure. Another useful tip is to take a moment to analyze the machine as a whole. Ensure that the machine does not have any pinhole punches above or facing the PIN pad that could be a recording device. These recording devices are typically miniscule, if present at all. Additionally, number pad overlays may wiggle when gripped or have shaking buttons when pressed.

These skimmers can also be commonly found on pumps at the gas station. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends running your debit card as credit at the pump instead- to minimize chances of fraudsters gaining immediate access to money in your account.

Check for other clues that may indicate ATM Skimmers, such as:

  • Adhesive or tacky residue
  • Protruding or unusually shaped hardware on or around the card reader or PIN pad
  • Loose-fitting or ill-fitting attachments

The FBI estimate that ATM skimming costs financial institutions more than $1 billion each year, and recommend that members cover the keypad when punching in their PIN. The FBI also suggest choosing an ATM within direct view of an attendant, for example, at a gas station or convenience store, as they are less likely to be targeted by fraudsters.

If a skimmer is found or if a victim’s card has been skimmed, it is imperative to notify the ATM’s corresponding financial institution as soon as possible. If the skimmer is found after normal operating hours of the financial institution, the victim should contact the local authorities so immediate action is taken.

Pioneer Valley Credit Union’s debit cards have extra added security. This extra security has been implemented within financial institutions across the nation with an EMV, or added “chip”. Debit cards with a chip have more security than those solely with a magstripe. Fraudsters have caught on to financial institutions’ attempts to alleviate these scams and have implemented the use of ATM Shimmers. Shimmers have a “shim”, or hardware that makes contact between the chip and the card to steal its data.

Another way to protect card data from fraudsters is to utilize Apple or Samsung Pay, a valuable resource offered to Pioneer Valley Credit Union members. These tools are contactless so personal information is less likely to be compromised by ATM Skimmers and Shimmers.

Every scenario is different and not all ATM Skimmers and Shimmers look the same. If a victim’s information is compromised, it is imperative that fraud is reported immediately.

Pioneer Valley Credit Union has systems in place to protect its member’s security. To report fraud on your Pioneer Valley Credit Union account, email or call (413) 733-2800.



This blog post is intended to provide educational information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to individual financial situations.

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