ATM Hacks and Scams: How to Stay Safe

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) have become an integral part of our daily lives, providing convenient access to cash and banking services. However, as technology advances, so do the methods used by criminals to compromise ATMs and steal your hard-earned money. ATM hacks and scams have become increasingly sophisticated, posing a significant threat to your financial security. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various ATM hacks and scams, and most importantly, learn how to protect yourself from falling victim to these malicious activities.

Part 1: Types of ATM Hacks and Scams

  1. Skimming Devices

One of the most common and discreet methods used by criminals to steal your card information is through skimming devices. Skimmers are small devices placed over or inside the card reader of an ATM. They are designed to capture your card’s magnetic stripe data and record your PIN as you enter it. Once the criminals retrieve this data, they can clone your card and make unauthorized transactions.

How to Stay Safe: a. Inspect the ATM: Before inserting your card, give the card reader a close look. If anything seems unusual, such as loose parts, tape, or an unusually bulky card slot, avoid using that ATM and report it to the bank or ATM owner. b. Cover the keypad: When entering your PIN, use your other hand or an object to shield the keypad from prying eyes and hidden cameras. c. Use ATMs at bank branches: ATMs located inside bank branches are less likely to be tampered with because they are under constant surveillance and maintenance.

  1. Card Trapping

Card trapping involves the use of a fraudulent card reader or trap within the card slot. When you insert your card, it gets stuck inside the machine, and the criminals can retrieve it later. Meanwhile, they may watch you enter your PIN or use a hidden camera to capture it.

How to Stay Safe: a. Use well-lit ATMs: Stick to ATMs located in well-lit, populated areas, as criminals are less likely to tamper with these machines. b. Don’t force your card: If your card gets stuck or doesn’t feel right when you insert it, avoid using force. Notify the bank immediately.

  1. PIN Theft through Cameras

Hidden cameras are often used in conjunction with skimming devices or card trapping to record your PIN as you enter it. These cameras can be concealed in seemingly innocuous places around the ATM, such as brochure holders or light fixtures.

How to Stay Safe: a. Cover the keypad: As mentioned earlier, always cover the keypad when entering your PIN. This simple step can thwart many PIN theft attempts. b. Be vigilant: Look for anything out of the ordinary around the ATM, such as unusual objects or devices. If you suspect something is amiss, report it to the bank or authorities.

  1. Cash Trapping

Cash trapping is another technique used by criminals to physically steal your cash. In this scam, a device is placed inside or over the cash dispenser, preventing the cash from being dispensed to you. Once you leave, the criminals retrieve the trapped cash.

How to Stay Safe: a. Inspect the cash slot: Before inserting your card and entering your PIN, check the cash slot to ensure it looks normal. If it appears tampered with or has any unusual attachments, avoid using that ATM. b. Report issues immediately: If the ATM doesn’t dispense cash or behaves strangely during the transaction, report the issue to the bank or ATM owner right away.

  1. Phishing Emails and Messages

While not a direct ATM hack, phishing emails, and messages are used to trick individuals into revealing their card information and PIN. These messages often appear as if they are from a legitimate bank or financial institution and may contain links to fake websites that steal your data.

How to Stay Safe: a. Be cautious with emails and messages: Never click on links or download attachments from unsolicited emails or text messages, especially those claiming to be from your bank. b. Verify the source: If you receive a suspicious message, contact your bank directly using the official contact information provided on their website or the back of your card.

Part 2: Protecting Yourself from ATM Hacks and Scams

  1. Choose ATMs Wisely

Selecting the right ATM can greatly reduce your risk of falling victim to scams. Opt for ATMs located in well-lit, busy areas like bank branches or supermarkets. Criminals are less likely to tamper with ATMs under constant surveillance, and the presence of people can deter them.

  1. Inspect the ATM

Before using an ATM, give it a thorough inspection. Look for any signs of tampering, such as loose or misaligned parts, unusual attachments, or any discrepancies in the card reader or cash dispenser. If you notice anything suspicious, do not use that ATM and report it to the bank or ATM owner immediately.

  1. Use ATMs Inside Bank Branches

Whenever possible, use ATMs located inside bank branches. These ATMs are typically well-maintained and monitored more closely. Criminals are less likely to target them because of the higher risk of detection.

  1. Cover the Keypad

Always cover the keypad when entering your PIN, even if you don’t see any suspicious activity around the ATM. This simple action can protect your PIN from being recorded by hidden cameras or prying eyes.

  1. Enable Transaction Alerts

Most banks offer the option to receive real-time transaction alerts via email or text message. Enable this feature to stay informed about any unusual activity on your account. If you receive an alert for a transaction you didn’t authorize, contact your bank immediately.

  1. Use Contactless Payments

Consider using contactless payment methods such as mobile wallets or contactless cards, which do not require you to insert your card into the ATM. These methods are often more secure than traditional card transactions.

  1. Regularly Check Your Bank Statements

Regularly review your bank statements and transaction history. Look for any unauthorized or suspicious transactions and report them to your bank promptly. The sooner you report a problem, the easier it is to resolve.

  1. Secure Your Card and PIN

Keep your ATM card in a secure place, such as a wallet or cardholder, and never leave it unattended. Memorize your PIN instead of writing it down, and do not share it with anyone. Avoid using easily guessable PINs like birthdays or sequential numbers.

  1. Be Wary of Strangers

If someone offers to help you at the ATM or appears overly interested in your transaction, be cautious. Criminals may use distraction techniques to steal your card or PIN. Politely decline assistance and complete your transaction independently.

  1. Educate Yourself and Spread Awareness

Stay informed about the latest ATM hacks and scams by regularly checking updates from your bank, government agencies, or reliable news sources. Educate your friends and family about ATM safety practices to ensure they are also protected.


ATM hacks and scams are an unfortunate reality in our modern world, but with vigilance and knowledge, you can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to these malicious activities. By choosing ATMs wisely, inspecting the machines, covering the keypad, and following other safety practices outlined in this guide, you can protect your financial security and enjoy the convenience of ATM transactions without unnecessary risks. Remember that staying informed and vigilant are your best defenses against ATM hacks and scams.

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