What Is An ATM Skimmer?

Most of us have probably used an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) at the bank and thought very little about it. It's one of those commonplace things that becomes a non-thinking chore; put your card in, enter your PIN, make your transaction. However, there is a reason to pay more attention to this practice, and that is a type of device known as an ATM skimmer.


The skimmer's job is simply to steal your Bank or Credit Card information. This usually works with the Bad Guys installing a fake "reader" (the part your card's magnetic stripe goes into). There is also usually some kind of device to "see" or otherwise record your PIN as you enter it - it may a very small video camera, or a keyboard overlay. If they are successful in getting both pieces of information (the magnetic stripe data and the PIN), they can duplicate your card an have access to all your money. The Bad Guys may use some cunning here and take smaller amounts of money over a longer period, so as to to escape detection right away.

Some of these setups can be very sophisticated, some are pretty shoddy and should be suspicious enough to be noticeable. It is a real problem, and it does happen in the real world. In Europe, ATM cards are designed differently and are typically harder to copy that those in the US - although skimming  does still occur in Europe too.

[caption id="attachment_5985" align="aligncenter" width="276"]atm skimmer click to enlarge[/caption]

The prevailing attitude of the banking industry seems to be that they provide the ATMs as a convenience - you don't have to use them - and that you should exercise due caution if you do use them. You can usually get a refund if money is taken from your account as a result of skimming, but it may be a bit of a drawn out process. One would assume that banks, or the third parties servicing their ATMs would regularly check for skimmers, but I can't find any confirmation of that.

Skimmers can also show up at self-serve fuel pumps too, as if the ATMs were not bad enough! For more that you ever wanted to know about ATM skimmers, see KrebsOnSecurity

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