The Mirror recently highlighted a scam involving tampered cash machines which prompted a big response from readers – so what other warning signs should you watch for?
Staying alert to scammers can seem like an unending mission for most of us.
Just as soon as one scam is publicised, the fraudsters move to another method to part you from you cash – and their tactics get more sophisticated each time.
The Mirror recently highlighted a scam involving tampered cash machines which prompted a big response from readers – some of whom had come into contact with it.
So what do you need to watch out for when using an ATM? With fraudsters working in overdrive in the run up to Christmas, I’ve run through the main things to be aware of.
Blocking the slot – the glue trap
ATM’s take a lot of punishment, with most of them being outdoors and accessible 24 hours a day. This means that battered machines are commonplace – which makes it easier for fraudsters to fiddle with them and fool you.
The slot blocker trap is one of the oldest and most common cash tricks. If you withdraw cash and don’t take the money – usually after five or more seconds – the machine takes the cash back and drops it in to a box inside the ATM itself.
This means you can complain to the bank and they can identify the money you tried to withdraw. But with some machines, fraudsters simply block the slot – usually with glue – so the money backs up inside it. They then break the seal, get the money out and vanish.
A slightly more high-tech version involves the fraudster sliding a fake cash dispenser cover over the real slot. This also holds the money. These scams are ‘proximity frauds and the thief must be close by the machine as they need to sweep in and collect the cash before anyone figures out the problem.
The Lebanese loop
This one sounds exotic, but it actually works in a similar way to the slot blocker. Only this time, the target is your card.
The ‘loop’ is either a plastic sleeve or sometimes just a bit of tape that slots into the card part of the ATM.
When you put the card in, the insert stops it from being released. Some variations of the scam have a miniature camera on the ATM that films you entering your pin (watch out for anything stuck to the machine, like a leaflet holder, for example).
Others just involve a fraudster watching you enter your pin from behind you or posing as a good Samaritan and ‘suggesting’ you re-enter the pin.
The scam works on two levels. If the fraudster has your pin, they can go on a spending spree. But they can also sell on your card details to fraudsters in countries where there is no ‘chip and pin’ card (America used to be the number one destination for stolen numbers for this reason).
The shoulder surf/the smash and grab
Here we go really lo-fi – but these two fraud methods are the most common ways people lose cash at ATMs.
The smash and grab is simply that. The fraudster distracts you at the exact point the money dispenses – often asking for change or other random questions – then grabs your cash and legs it.
I’ve recently seen this in action and though you might think you’d be prepared, it’s over so quickly you’ll barely know what’s happened.
The shoulder surf is a two-part scam. The thief watches you enter your pin then follows you and pinches your wallet. If you’ve got lots of bags, you’re a target as you’re more likely to be distracted.
Shoulder surfing is also endemic in bars at this time of year as people are more relaxed and don’t realise their cards have been lifted.
How to avoid being scammed
My top ATM tips to avoid being scammed are really simple:
- Take a good look at the machine for anything that doesn’t belong or looks like it might have been stuck on to it – particularly around the card and cash slots. Give it a shake or pick at it to see if it’s a bit flimsy. Be wary of anything that protrudes outwards.
- If your card or cash is retained, don’t move away from the machine. Call the number on it and report the situation (if there is one). Tell the people waiting that the machine is jammed. Beware of strangers with ‘helpful’ advice.
- If your card is retained then call your bank and report it lost/stolen before you leave the machine.
- If it’s daytime, go inside the bank to withdraw cash where it’s harder to fall victim to a cash grab.
- If someone is too close to you, turn around and ask them to step back.
- If someone tries to talk to you during a transaction, ignore them – or ideally, cancel it before the transaction and keep your hand by the card slot to stop an opportunistic grab.
- Always report suspicious activity to the bank and the police.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.