Bruce Mandelblit

These days, automated teller machines or ATMs are a ubiquitous part of modern commerce. Not only are ATMs located at banks, more businesses, especially retailers and high rise office buildings, have ATMs on their property for convenience of employees and customers as well as a revenue stream.

Unfortunately, criminals continue to work overtime to take advantage of such convenient technology.

It’s an area where fresh swindles quickly make their way across America and other countries worldwide.

Until now, the greatest crime risk when using an ATM is armed robbery or somebody trying to “shoulder surf” a user’s ATM personal identification number or PIN.

But wait! According to the Florida Department of Banking and Finance, a new, more sophisticated scam is “ATM skimming.”

In this ingenious rip-off, lawbreakers take advantage of technology to make counterfeit ATM cards by using a skimmer. It’s a card-swipe device that reads the information on a consumer’s ATM card. The thief also captures the customer’s PIN number with a small camera mounted in the skimmer itself or at another location near the ATM.

Losses Increase

Since the ATM works normally, the victim doesn’t know he or she just gave a criminal the keys to a bank account. According to law enforcement officials, skimming rings will often send stolen ATM data to remote locations, including overseas, where factories manufacture sham debit and credit cards.

It is estimated that, nationwide, ATM skimming accounts for monetary losses exceed $4 million. However, this probably is the tip of the iceberg. Skimming has risen substantially in just the last few months alone; high-tech bandits keep up with technical advances and products, including purchasing ATMs to capture personal banking data. This latest development means that security directors and managers should take care when others install an ATM within an organization’s property. Security operations also have an opportunity to educate security officers, employees and visitors on this skim scam.

Here are five security tips to share with others.

Be wary of anything about an ATM that looks out of the ordinary, such as odd-looking equipment or wires attached to the device.

Be wary of a “no tampering” sign. Crooks often place such signage to thwart anyone curious about a new piece of equipment.

Be wary of a jammed ATM that forces customers to use another ATM that has a skimmer attached.

Customers should also check their bank accounts regularly to make sure there are no unusual or unauthorized transactions. Federal law limits loss from some card fraud and many banks offer additional protection.

If security or an employee sees anything unusual or suspicious around an ATM, it’s best to notify local law enforcement, the financial institutions involved and the facility at which the ATM is located.

To help mitigate ATM skimming, an Electronics Funds Transfer Association Task Force seeks countermeasures to the rising use of electronic devices to steal money and information from ATMs. This task force will work closely with law enforcement, including the U.S. Secret Service.

For more information on ATM skimming, log on to

A Final Thought

This is a heads-up for businesses that have ATMs on their property. It is an ironic twist that for such sophisticated outlaws, skimming goes beyond stealing cash to stealing personal data.

About the Columnist

Bruce Mandelblit is a nationally recognized, syndicated journalist specializing in security, safety and crime prevention issues. He is a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. Email Bruce at