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ATM Scammers

Holidaymakers warned about the dangers posed by ATM scammers

Follow these tips to stay safe when withdrawing cash abroad

Holidaymakers have been warned about the dangers posed by ATM scammers looking to steal their bank details.

Scammers can use a range of methods to obtain your data, but holidaymakers are particularly vulnerable to card skimming when using cash machines abroad.

New research by NordVPN found data from more than six million payment cards for sale on the dark web. Worryingly, 51% of cards included home addresses and 40% included email addresses. Around 164,000 cards belonged to UK victims.

Read on for advice on how card skimming works and how to spot a dodgy ATM.

What is card skimming?

Scammers install card skimmers on cash machines to steal banking information from victims. A skimmer is a small device that stores the details from a bank card’s magnetic strip – including the card number, expiration date and the name of the account holder. These devices allow scammers to quickly access large amounts of data.

Once the device has been removed, the information can be sold on the dark web, cloned to create fake cards or used to make fraudulent purchases. 

Fraudsters may also try to steal your data at an ATM in the following ways:

  • Hidden cameras: cameras are concealed in panels above the machine or to the side of the screen to spy on you while you enter your details.
  • False keyboards: keyboards are installed on top of real ones to capture your details as you enter them.
  • ‘Lebanese loops’: these devices trap your card in the machine, allowing scammers to retrieve it after you’ve walked away. If your card gets swallowed by an ATM, call your bank immediately to get it blocked.
  • ‘Shoulder surfers’: when fraudsters lurk nearby to watch you enter your details into the machine. The scammer may try to distract you and steal your card.

How to protect yourself from card skimming

Holidaymakers are particularly vulnerable to skimming as they won’t always know exactly what a card machine should look like in a different country. Follow these tips to stay safe when withdrawing cash:

  1. Look for any scratches, glue residue, tape or parts of the machine which look slightly different in colour or newer than the rest. Check if the LED light above the card slot is missing.
  2. Wiggle the machine to see if it’s attached properly.
  3. Check the card slot. It may be slightly wider than usual if it’s hiding a skimmer.
  4. Check the keypad. Fake keypads may feel slightly loose or thick and spongy.
  5. Remove any leaflets on the machine, as they could be hiding something.
  6. Check if there are any holes in the machine, as these could be a sign of a hidden camera.
  7. Be aware of people around you and cover the keypad with your free hand when entering your details.
  8. Consider using a machine in a busy area or inside a bank branch where it’s harder for fraudsters to tamper with it.

Advice on spending money abroad:

NordVPN also recommends taking the following steps to protect yourself while on holiday:

  • Use a prepaid card for your holiday spending. Prepaid cards are easier to freeze and can’t be used for identity theft.
  • Keep an eye on your bank statements for any small unrecognised transactions, as fraudsters may test your card before stealing larger sums.
  • Tell your bank that you’re going on holiday so it’s aware of your location.

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