Criminals are always on the lookout for their next victim; drop your guard for a split second and they’ll strike you without remorse and take away everything you’ve worked hard for.
Like astute businessmen, crooks constantly reinvent themselves to continuously victimize unsuspecting people. And they always seem to know exactly where to look. Somehow they have managed to acquire a new skill set over the years and now hit you where it hurts the most: automated teller machines, or ATMs. How do they do it?
The usual knife game
Criminals become savvier as modern technology makes it more difficult for them to use brute force. However, they still exist, as some of them still choose to do it the old-fashioned way: with a very dangerous weapon in hand. They usually strike at night, in dark, isolated places, when and where you’re most vulnerable. As you, the unsuspecting victim, withdraws money from the ATM, Mr. Bad Guy appears out of nowhere with a gun or knife, uses scare tactics, and gives you no choice but to hand over your cash and other valuables. Worse, they’re not content with the money you have on hand—they want all of your money out of the machine and into their pockets.
If you are planning on making a withdrawal, be sure to check the surroundings first: see if the area is properly lit and there is a guard on duty in that branch. While withdrawing, be sure to keep on looking around to see if there are people in your surroundings. Once you’re done, get out as quickly as possible and always keep your guard up. If you’re not sure about the branch, then don’t do it and wait for a better time to use the ATM.
Skim and scan
In 2012, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported that Php 20 million were stolen using ATM skimming devices. Used especially by big syndicates, they tamper the card slots with a device that scans the card to be copied. With the help of a camera placed on the keypad, they can see the users’ passwords. Using the data they got from the users’ accounts, they will make copies and put them in blank cards to access them using regular ATMs.
While these techniques become more sophisticated by the day, there are many ways to see if a machine has been rigged by skimming devices. For starters, check if there is an unusual appearance on the ATM: skimmers are installed on the card capture slot and they stick out like a sore thumb. If you are unsure about the ATM, give it a little shake and see if the parts are loose or jiggly; ATMs are constructed to be rigid machines with no room for shaky parts. Finally, cover your hands whenever you key in your PIN.
Let’s face it: criminals will never stop finding new ways to victimize us and suck out the money from our accounts. While this is a reality we have to face everyday, the best thing we can do is to be constantly vigilant whenever we use ATMs and when you’ve seen anything suspicious, call the authorities as soon as possible. Only with your help these criminals can be apprehended and their shady activities will be stopped once and for all.