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Consumer's Edge: Watch for fake card slots on real ATM machines

We've been warned about strange ATMs at convenience stores or machines on wheels that only record bank card information but never dispense cash.

Now the thieves have changed their game.

Clearwater police recently arrested two Chicago men on charges they rigged ATMs, including in the most unlikely of places — two Regions bank machines.

Strange ATMs we get. But an ATM at the bank itself?

I spoke to our friends at, who published tips about spotting a hacked ATM, as well as the U.S. Secret Service, to help consumers guard their cash against ATM "skimming."

Skimming involves use of devices that fit on the ATM card slot and read information off a card's magnetic strip. A small camera on the device or somewhere else on or around the ATM records PINs as customers press the keypad.

Even with recent card skimming problems, stick to bank ATMs rather than random machines.

"You don't know who owns those," said John Joyce, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service Tampa field office. "Use legitimate bank ATMs. If possible, go inside the bank and use the one inside the bank."

That the men from Chicago attempted to skim bank card information from a bank ATM "is a little surprising," says Marshall Brain, founder of "Most bank ATMs are attached physically to the bank. Many of them have rooms that you go into and many of those rooms have video monitoring.

"Either they're not looking at the video monitoring or (the thieves) are just doing it so quickly it's imperceptible," he said.

So Brain says along with picking an ATM that is attached to the bank building, be sure that the bank is vigilant about monitoring that ATM. In some cases, he said, thieves will put an entire fake front on ATMs that go without monitoring to record consumer information.

It all means adding more vigilance to our daily activities. But with practice, it'll become second nature. For now, these protections are about is good as it gets, Brain said, "unless you want to raise the stakes and use biometrics" — things such as retinal scans, fingerprints or some other physically unique identifier.

Otherwise, here's the Edge on how to identify a hacked ATM:

• Check the card slot. Give the slot a tug to make sure it's not shaky. If it moves, it could be a fake slot attached the real one.

• Look for cameras. Thieves often have cameras hidden on the keypad or other location to record your PIN.

• Look for an extra keypad. Make sure there is no overlay placed on top of the original keypad. These fake keypads sometimes have cameras hidden in them.

• Cover your hand when entering your PIN.

Ivan Penn can be reached at or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

Consumer's Edge: Watch for fake card slots on real ATM machines 12/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 3, 2010 9:08pm]
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