Automated teller machines (ATMs) are electronic banking outlets that allow people to complete financial transactions.

Banks place ATMs inside and outside of their branches. Other ATMs are located in high-traffic areas such as shopping centers, grocery stores, convenience stores, airports, bus and railway stations, gas stations, casinos, restaurants, and other locations. Most ATMs that are found in banks are multi-functional, while others that are offsite tend to be primarily or entirely designed for cash withdrawals.

A robbery of a person using an ATM is the most serious concern related to their presence. A would-be robber will obviously know an individual using an ATM will usually leave the machine with cash money in their possession after withdrawal of funds. In addition, if an individual is the victim of an ATM robbery, other personal property such as wallets, purses, credit cards and jewelry will often be taken.

According to the Bank Administration Institute, the most dangerous hours for ATM crime are from 7:00 p.m. until midnight, when approximately 40% of ATM-related crimes occur.

The following are a number of ATM safety and security tips:

Approaching the ATM

  • At a drive-up ATM, keep all windows closed, except the one you are using, and all vehicle doors locked. Keep the vehicle running and be watchful of the vehicle’s front, rear and sides. If someone approaches your vehicle on foot, cancel the transaction and leave.
  • If you drive to the ATM and then exit your vehicle to use the ATM, lock all of the vehicle doors after you exit it. Then, keep your keys handy so you can re-enter your vehicle quickly after completing your transaction.
  • When approaching the ATM, be alert for anything suspicious, especially two or more people in a nearby vehicle, particularly if no one else is at the ATM, or someone appears to be “hanging” around the area.
  • Never approach an ATM at night if the lights at the site are not working.
  • Particularly after dark, take a companion along to the ATM, if at all possible, and park close to the ATM in a well-lighted area.
  • Avoid using ATM’s with obscuring bushes around them, again, particularly after dark.

Using the ATM

  • When waiting in line to use the ATM, wait well behind the person(s) ahead of you, and do not approach the ATM until they complete their transaction.
  • When you are using the ATM and someone is closer to you than you would like them to be, ask them politely and tactfully to step back a few steps. If they do not do so, cancel your transaction and wait in your locked vehicle until that person leaves or go to another ATM.
  • Before you approach the ATM, have your card ready, know your code and if anything such as a deposit slip needs to be filled out, have it already completed. If making a deposit and you do not have a deposit envelope, obtain one and fill it out prior to approaching the ATM.
  • Protect your Personal Identification Number (PIN). Memorize your PIN. Do not write your PIN on your ATM card or carry your PIN in your wallet or purse.
  • When using the ATM, stand directly in front of the keyboard, blocking the view of others. Do not enter the PIN if anyone else can see the screen.
  • As remote as it may seem, criminals can use high-powered equipment to visually capture cardholder’s PIN’s as they are punched into keypads. By picking up discarded ATM transaction receipts, criminals can match up PIN’s and account numbers and have all the information they need to manufacture false ATM cards and gain access to consumer’s money. This is referred to as “shoulder surfing.”
  • Never accept offers of assistance with the ATM from strangers. If you are having problems, contact your financial institution.
  • When your ATM transaction is completed, immediately take your property, put it in your pocket, wallet or purse and leave immediately.
  • Never stand and count your money. You can count it later. If your transaction is inaccurate, you cannot discuss it with the machine. Thus, there is no need to count your money at the ATM and risk exposing yourself to a would-be criminal.
  • ATM robberies often occur after the patron has completed their transaction. Always have your head up and be aware of your surroundings when you leave an ATM. If you feel or sense someone is following you, walk or drive to the nearest open business or where there are a lot of people and call the police.
  • If you lose, misplace or have your ATM card stolen, notify the card issuer immediately, along with your local police department.

ATM Skimmers

ATM skimming is a type of payment card fraud. It is a way of stealing PINs and other information off credit cards and debit cards by rigging machines with hidden recording devices. Bank ATMs and payment terminals and other merchants are the targets of this scam. Criminals then use the stolen information to produce fake cards and spend victims’ money or take cash straight from their bank accounts. The criminal(s) usually sits nearby in a vehicle receiving the information transmitted wirelessly from equipment placed on the front of the ATM. The equipment used to capture your ATM card number and PIN is cleverly disguised to look like normal equipment on the machine. A “skimmer” is mounted to the front of the normal ATM card slot that reads the ATM card number and transmits it to the criminals. At the same time, a wireless camera is disguised to look like a leaflet holder and is mounted in a position to view ATM PIN entries.

Skimming Scam Prevention Strategies:

  • Use secure ATM machines – under video surveillance or inside of a bank lobby. They’re less likely to be tampered with. Criminal(s) have to take more risk installing skimmers where there are security cameras.
  • Cover the ATM keypad as you’re entering your PIN — just in case there’s a hidden camera around.
  • Skimming devices will stick out a few extra inches from an ATM. If something looks suspicious, find another ATM. Don’t fall for a poor fitting device (or a sticker or sign that says “Swipe Here First”, or “Use This Machine Only”).
  • If a machine keeps your card, call the bank immediately and report it.
  • Don’t accept “help” from anybody hanging around the ATM machine. They may say they were having trouble also and advise you to enter your PIN again.


Eric LeFlore, NHA Executive Director, Security

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