That ATM installed in the wall of your local convenience store or bank might look like an easy way to get some cash in your pocket, but you need to make sure that the scammers didn’t get there first.
You Use ATMs All The Time, Right?
You pass an ATM, you get money out of your account. Perhaps you’re heading out for drinks, or you’re paying a tradesman who doesn’t take credit cards or cheques. Heading to the market or a farm shop, sponsoring the neighbour’s kids to eat 30,000 chocolate buttons or even paying the milkman or window cleaner – all of these things need cash.
While it would seem to be unwise to keep all of your money in one bank account (or even in banks at all in some parts of the world) the fact remains that ATMs remain a popular method for withdrawing money. After all, most of us can’t make it to the bank during business hours, and even if we could, the queuing is inconvenient.
No – it’s much easier to use an ATM to withdraw money and do some account management. Unfortunately, there are various ways in which ATMs can be subverted to work against us. While the account management side of things should be left to online and telephone banking (or, indeed, visiting your local branch) there is still the matter of withdrawing money.
While cashback is a useful option (and should certainly be considered when you shop for groceries in your local hyper or supermarket) it comes with its own risks. Either way, you need to know just what threats you might face when using an ATM.
Remember that these devices are essentially computers. Also, consider that even ATMs installed in the side of a bank can be considered a risk.
Windows XP Is Running On Your Favourite ATM
You must surely be aware of the fact that as of April 2014, Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft. This extremely significant event took place around 7 years after it was announced, so hardly came as a surprise.
Unfortunately, a large number of ATMs around the world are still running on Windows XP, both the full and embedded versions (Windows XP for Embedded Systems and Windows XP Embedded). The difference is essentially that the owner of the embedded system decides exactly which components are included and which are not.
All ATMs should eventually be upgraded to run the banking software on Windows 7 (an embedded version of this OS also exists) or even the highly secure Windows 8.1, but until this is done, vulnerabilities that are found in Windows XP can be exploited on ATMs where it is installed. The result of this could be extremely damaging for your financial situation.
Beware Fake ATMs
One of the biggest ATM-based scams over the years has been the use of fake machines, positioned in places where consumers might not have expected to find them, perhaps at music festivals or in shopping malls.
Essentially boxes with cannibalised laptop parts inside, these devices appear to be the genuine article, but of course they don’t have any money in them. Instead, they’re designed to read your card and record your PIN, and then inform you that there is no cash to withdraw.
With your card and PIN numbers recorded, the perpetrators can then raid your bank account.
The best protection here is to avoid using standalone ATMs. Sadly the recent increase in such devices has made spotting suspicious ATM units difficult, so the best option is for you to apply a blanket ban on them.
ATM Modifications That Can Steal Your Card Details & PIN
Perhaps it’s not possible to avoid ATMs entirely; maybe you think the threat is overstated.
Here’s a sobering thought: $1 billion was lost through ATM skimming in 2008 alone, and around the world banks have been very relaxed in their responsibilities restoring funds stolen through their machines, although the opposite is true of credit card fraud.
Skimming is the term given to the process of recording credit card numbers, PINs and any other security information stored on the card, so that it might be used by a criminal third party, perhaps online or as a physical clone. This can be done with portable machines or by criminals modifying existing ATMs.
Several such ATMs have been spotted over the past few years, some featuring small cameras recording your card number and PIN (the images are transmitted to a nearby laptop), while others have been modified with fake keypads to record your PIN (perhaps used in conjunction with cameras). Most audacious of all are the fake ATM fronts, where new keypads, card readers or both are added to an existing machine.
With hoaxes like these in circulation, you can see why ATM use can prove extremely dangerous to your bank balance!
Conclusion: Why Use An ATM?
The question has to be asked: why would you continue to use an ATM given the threats that exist worldwide? Criminal gangs across all continents are using these methods to siphon funds away from the pockets of innocent people, so take into account everything you have learned here next time you consider using an ATM to withdraw cash.
Several alternatives are available if you want to withdraw cash. First, use the bank branch wherever possible, or failing this, get cashback on your purchases. In some countries, you might be able to withdraw from your account at a post office or other business, which will save you travelling to a bank branch.
If there is no alternative – you have to use an ATM – then perform checks on the machine before using it. Look for an unusual keypad, additional fittings and even tap the surface to ensure that it isn’t hollow.
Also, try to choose a machine that you have seen two or more people using beforehand.
We hope your ATM use is safe. But please only rely on this method of cash withdrawal as a last resort.