Q: A group of us were out the other night when one person needed to use an ATM. When she returned to the table a discussion about ATM’s and scams took place. It seemed we all had different ideas about how it happens and how to protect against it. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

A: Modern technology is wonderful but with convenience comes risk. When using an ATM you need to be alert to a number of things to protect yourself from theft.

First you need to be alert to the ATM itself. While looking at the ATM ask yourself if there is anything unusual about it. Does it appear to have something added to it or are there wires extending from it that don’t appear to belong. Does it have a sign attached indicating it is out of order and directing the user to another machine? If something appears to be out of line don’t use that ATM.

Next be alert to the location itself. Although scamming can happen anywhere some locations can be less desirable than others. If there is something about the location itself or the foot and car traffic that makes you nervous, don’t use that ATM.

To obtain the vital information from your transaction the ATM thief needs two pieces of information — your card data that is embedded in the card’s magnetic strip or chip and your PIN (personal identity number.) To get your PIN the scammers use a hidden camera to record the number as you key it into the ATM.

To protect yourself against ATM theft there are basically four things you should do every time you use an ATM. Protect your password. Use a familiar ATM and limit your visits. Carefully observe the ATM you use. Check your bank balance frequently.

Protect your password. As you key your PIN into the ATM shield it with your hand to protect it from roaming eyes and hidden cameras.

Use familiar ATMs. Those in dimly lighted spots could be more susceptible to fraud. Those under video surveillance can be safer. Also limit your visits to the ATM — with frequency there is added risk. Also daylight hours are usually safer than night hours.

Observe the ATM you are about to use. Make sure the card slot is legitimate and not tacked on. When you insert your card, if it doesn’t feel normal don’t complete the transaction. Try another ATM.

Check your bank balance. Take time to check your bank balance frequently. If you are using a debit card you are given a two-day window for reporting fraud. If you don’t report debit card fraud within 60 days you have unlimited liability. If using a credit card you have more protection and you can dispute any unusual charge. You have at least one billing cycle to question those charges.

You need to weigh convenience against safety. By planning ahead and using a bank teller you can reduce the chance of fraud. Only you know which is more important to you. So if convenience wins out over safety, take these simple steps to help protect your money.

Q: I recently encountered a problem that resulted in penalties and interest because of a lost check that I attached to correspondence regarding payment of an account. Will you please tell your readers how important it is to make a copy of everything of importance that you mail.

A: I certainly will as it is a subject that I address quite often. When sending mail of importance (tax returns, applications, merchandise orders, etc.) the entire package including any check or money order should be duplicated. The check or money order should contain identifying information such as an account number or transaction number on its face. If there is a due date or deadline involved, the correspondence should be sent certified mail return receipt.

By making a complete copy of the package you can refer to it should there be a question. You can determine exactly what you did or didn’t say or send.

The identification on the face of the check or money order will allow it to be easily identified should it become separated from the written material. In many processes the check and written materials are separated and each processed in different systems.

By sending the package certified mail return receipt you have the ability to show proof of date mailed as well as proof of mail received by addressee if there are questions. Remember it is always better to be safe than sorry.

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