By Betty Berry, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010  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 ATMs 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 suggestions?

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 at almost any location, 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, then 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 and your PIN (personal identification number).

To capture your card data the thief adds a device to the ATM that will capture your card data as you swipe your card.

To get your PIN they use a hidden camera to record your PIN as you key it into the ATM. The thieves then burn these two pieces of information onto a blank card and use that card to access your account.

To protect yourself against ATM theft there are basically four things you should do every time you use an ATM.

Protect your password. Use familiar ATMs and limit your visits. Observe the ATM you use. Check your bank balance frequently.

Protect your PIN. As you key in your PIN cover 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 try to limit your visits to the ATM — with frequency there is 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 charges. 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 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.


Brain Fitness six-week program: Aug. 30-Oct. 8. Senior Concerns Day Center, 401 Hodencamp Road, Thousand Oaks. Call Susan at 497-0189.

Savvy Caregiver training: Wednesdays, Sept. 1-Oct. 20 from 3 to 5 p.m. Senior Concerns Day Center. Call Norma at 484-6028.

Thursday 1:30-3 p.m. Seminar “Will You Pass Your Next Driving Test?” Simi Valley Senior Center, 3900 Avenida Simi, Simi Valley. Call 583-6363.

— Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362; or call 495-6250 or e-mail (please include your telephone number.) You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.

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