15 Sneaky ATM Scams That Are Easy To Fall For

NEWS & TRENDING - MANAGE MONEY NEWS
These ATM scams could cost you more than just a withdrawal.
Updated April 11, 2024
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african american woman holding smartphone using card to take out money from outdoor atm

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No one can afford to be scammed out of cash at the ATM, whether you’re doing well or trying to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Yet, many people don’t know that these scams are even happening and could create a financial loss in their bank account each month.

Before you head to the ATM, know what to look for and how to avoid the biggest waste of your money.

Skimmers

drazen/Adobe woman wearing beige long coat using card to withdraw money from atm late at night

Thieves are the biggest risk to ATM users, but not in the typical, expected form of robbing you from behind (though that’s always a risk, too).

Instead, they’ve developed a technology called magnetic readers placed on the outside of the ATM where you swipe your card, which makes it hard to keep more money in your bank account.

When you swipe your card to withdraw funds, the reader captures the information on your card and the PIN. The thieves return to retrieve the device and can use the data there to create a duplicate card, tapping into your bank account.

It’s nearly impossible to tell when a device is fake. That’s why choosing an ATM that doesn’t have a swipe feature but lets you insert your card instead may be a better option.

Glue and tap

hedgehog94/Adobe young woman wearing biker jacket using smartphone while typing pin at atm to withdraw money

Another scam involves glue placed on the ATM card reader, making a swipe of the card ineffective. As a result, a person with a chip needs to tap their card instead to access the ATM.

When you tap the card, you can withdraw your funds or use the ATM function as usual. The problem is that tap keeps the connection between the card and the ATM open for a few minutes.

That means someone behind you can then process other transactions — but those transactions come out of your account. In short, you leave the gateway open for someone else to access your account.

The only way to avoid this is to either avoid tapping or make sure you log out of your account before you walk away.

Blocking devices

Jacob Lund/Adobe man using atm to withdraw money

Another scam involves the addition of a blocking device on the card slot of the ATM. A person walks up, puts their card in, and enters their PIN. Someone else is nearby watching to learn the PIN.

The ATM seems to have confiscated the card, though it’s actually stored within the external device someone attached to it.

Once you go inside to report your card was confiscated, the thief retrieves the device and card. Now that they know the PIN, they can use it anywhere.


Wi-Fi cracking scams

Volodymyr Herasymov/Adobe woman standing at atm using smartphone nfc system to withdraw money

If you’ve ever used a freestanding ATM — such as one located at a gas station or convenience store — you could be at risk for a Wi-Fi cracking scam.

In this situation, the hackers use a Wi-Fi scanner that captures the account information you’re putting in. When they do this, they can gather transaction data.

This is most common on these standalone systems because they may not have the best security.

Fake ATMs

MiguelAngel/Adobe senior woman standing in atm withdrawing money by inserting card into the system

This may seem like a far-fetched, no-way-that’s-real type of scam. But it’s true.

In this situation, the machines themselves are fake. They have the sole goal of gathering information. Though this type of scam is not common today, if the ATM seems less than trustworthy, it’s best to simply ignore it.

The machines don’t have any money in them, and once the user inputs their information, the error message shows up.

The victim often takes their card and moves on without realizing they’ve just had their financial information stolen.

Deposit your money here

grace/Adobe night and day deposits box in brick wall

For those who use the night deposit box at a bank, this is a super convenient way to deposit money when you cannot get there during business hours.

Many small businesses do this, so some thieves have set up very real-looking deposit receptacles near the ATMs with a sign over the ATM that it’s out of order.

Drop your money in the seemingly secure receptacle and go on your way. The problem is those funds are removed long before the bank staff arrives.


Wireless cameras in ATM areas

Vittaya_25/Adobe security camera at atm

Some scammers make it as easy as possible for them to steal personal information. For example, they may place a tiny wireless camera in the ATM area, pointed right at the PIN area.

They look like security cameras, but they can scan your number. They can then create a fake card with your number and spend what’s in your account.

Good Samaritan

hedgehog94/Adobe senior man in suit taking out money from atm in street

The cruelest ATM targets seniors or others who may be very trusting or unsuspecting.

A person simply offers to help you to access your account, claiming the machine is tricky.

They are super friendly and sweet. They help you by inserting your card and then watching you enter your PIN. They may take your card and take off with it once you remove it.

Phishing

Backcountry Media/Adobe holding smartphone with email notification showing concept of phishing

Most people have stringent rules they follow about providing people with their personal information. You wouldn’t just give someone your PIN. Phishing schemes, though, let them trick you into doing so.

You receive an email that looks like it came from your bank asking you to click on a link to access your account. Next, you’re asked to verify your account information and PIN.

The thief can create a new card to steal your money using this and some pre-purchased magnetic strips.


Malware

lucadp/Adobe computer screen with code showing concept of hacking

Malware isn’t just something that can happen to your computer at home if you open a bad email. It can happen to the software used in ATMs as well.

In these situations, the criminal will install malware onto an ATM. This may be due to a flaw in the security of the ATM. With access to the ATM, the criminal can capture the account holder’s data, including their PIN.

Pro tip: Being aware and alert of ATM scams, can help you eliminate unnecessary money stress in your life

Shoulder Surfing

New Africa/Adobe people waiting for their turn to use atm in street

If you’ve ever felt like the person standing behind you at the ATM was rude because they were too close, that could be the whole point.

Shoulder surfing is an ATM scam that allows a person to watch what you are entering into the ATM by peering over your shoulder.

Though it’s more difficult than just having a PIN to access the bank account, there’s always the risk that another could accompany this trick to steal the account number (such as with an overlay).

Card swapping

Farknot Architect/Adobe woman holding three different cards in hand choosing which one to use for payment

Have you ever fallen for the trick of “Look – over there” only to have someone point in the opposite direction while they swipe something in front of you? That’s the premise here.

With card swapping, the criminal distracts the victim somehow, switching out their authentic card with a duplicate.

They’ve probably already shoulder-surfed to get the victim’s PIN, and now they have the authentic card, giving them easy access.


False ATM fronts

Kekyalyaynen/Adobe silver atm in placed inside building wall

In this ATM scam, the criminal has gone to work to create a realistic-looking ATM front, a device that fits right over the entire ATM.

The scam, though, is that it’s fake, and though it looks real, and you may put your card into it, enter your PIN, and try to withdraw money, nothing happens.

That is, of course, except for your card and PIN being captured by the device.

False PIN pads

Cozyta/Adobe hand typing pass code on atm

Another potential risk is that the PIN pad itself is fake. Just like an ATM front, the criminal can replace just the existing PIN pad with a fake version. In some cases, these counterfeit devices just fit right over the top of the real deal.

You have no idea you’re not using an actual PIN pad, and it can be tough to tell if any difference exists.

Cash trapping

selensergen/Adobe fresh notes of one hundred dollars coming out of atm

Sometimes, the thief is actually after the cash, not the card. A cash-trapping device makes that possible.

You withdraw the funds from your account, but the money gets trapped in the attached device. This prevents the cash from making it to you.

You may go inside to get help from the bank while they access the device and take your money. This is quite a tricky move and could lead to numerous losses if done at multiple locations.


Bottom line

New Africa/Adobe man standing inside bank depositing money

You work hard and even try to earn extra money. The last thing you need is to get scammed at the ATM and see your hard-earned money disappear.

The more you learn about these ATM scams, the better you may be at trying to avoid them. Sometimes it’s easier to step inside to pull cash out of your bank than to talk to a teller.

Author Details

Sandy Baker Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.

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