ATM Skimming is a con in which criminals install illegal card-reading devices on ATMs, as well as gas pumps and other public machines that process debit cards. You put your card in, and the device "skims" your information from the card's magnetic strip. Many times, scammers also set up a camera nearby. It's pointed at the ATM in order to capture the user typing their PIN into the machine. With these two pieces of information, scammers can potentially gain access to your account.

How it works

The criminal places the skimmer, which is usually made from plastic or plaster and looks very much like the original card reader, directly over the ATM card reader undetectable to the user or consumer. As the users or consumers insert their ATM cards into the false skimmer, their bank account information on the card’s magnetic strip is "skimmed" or stolen and usually stored on an electronic device. A hidden camera is used in conjunction with the skimming device in order to record the customer's Personal Identification Number. In lieu of a hidden camera, a keypad overlay, placed directly over the installed keypad, is sometimes used to record the user punching in their PIN. The skimmer device is placed over the ATM card reader or may be attached to the card swipe device at the door to gain access to the ATM after hours, which are both undetectable to the user or consumer.

Go to the bank.

Although not immune to skimming, ATMs at banks are typically more secure—with their own 24/7 camera surveillance—and better maintained. Machines at convenience stores and other non-bank locations account for the majority of ATM compromises.

According to NYPD Community Affairs Bureau here is HOW TO AVOID BEING SKIMMED:

  • Inspect the ATM, gas pump, or credit card reader before using it. Be suspicious if you see anything loose crooked or damaged, or if you notice scratches or adhesive tape/residue. The original card reader is usually concave in shape (curving inward), while the skimmer is more convex (curving outward).
  • When entering your PIN, block the keypad with your other hand to prevent possible hidden cameras from recording your number. 
  • If possible, use an ATM at an inside location (less access for criminals installing skimmers)
  • Be careful of ATMs in tourist areas - they are a popular target of skimmers
  • If your card isn't returned after the transaction or after hitting "cancel", immediately contact the financial institution that issued the card.
  • Be aware of "Money Trapping", where the criminal attaches a device to the cash dispenser "trapping" the customer's money and retrieves it after the customer leaves the ATM area

To see how EMV Chip Card technology has impacted debit and credit card fraud see our previous Blog by Robert Foster on February 14, 2017.

To view images and obtain more detailed information on how to spot a skimming device you can visit the FBI's website.


Tonya A McCaughey

VP, Retail Operations Manager

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