Safety and Security Tips to Guard ATM/Debit Card Fraud

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) have steadily increased in popularity since their introduction in 1967. From cash withdrawals and deposits to transfers and airtime purchases, a good number of financial transactions can be completed at ATMS. They have the slight edge of being the only channel besides a bank branch that can give you access to cash; even with the reduced emphasis on them, cash payments are still necessary from time to time.

Types of ATM/Debit Scams

Here are some common types of ATM fraud that you should be aware of:

Card skimming

Card skimming involves installing a device, also known as a skimmer, to an ATM card reader to collect information from the ATM card. Fraudsters will later retrieve and use this data to carry out fraudulent transactions. To avoid falling victim to card skimming, inspect the ATM card reader for any differences. If the card reader looks different from what you remember it to be, it is best not to use it.

Card shimming

A card shimmer is a slim board inconspicuously slotted into a card reader to read information on an ATM card. While card shimming works similarly to card skimming, it can be more dangerous than the latter because card shimmers are much less noticeable. Before using an ATM machine, it is advisable to check for irregularities within the card reader slots.

Card trapping

Card trapping involves placing a device within an ATM card reader that causes the card to be trapped within the machine. Fraudsters involved in such an ATM card scam typically also install a hidden video camera in the ATM machine to obtain the cardholder's PIN. When the cardholder leaves without the card, the fraudster will retrieve the card and use the stolen PIN to make fraudulent transactions. If your card gets trapped within the ATM, stay put at the machine and immediately alert your bank.

Keyboard Jamming

Keyboard jamming entails installing a device within an ATM machine to block the function of essential buttons on the keypad, such as the "Cancel" or "Enter" button. When the victim leaves the ATM machine to get assistance, the fraudster takes the opportunity to complete the transaction and steal the cash that the victim was trying to withdraw. If you suspect you've fallen victim to keyboard jamming, stay put at the machine and alert your bank immediately.


Phishing involves masquerading as a trustworthy person or legitimate business to obtain sensitive data like PINs, bank account passwords, and credit or debit card numbers, typically through emails and fraudulent websites. To avoid becoming a victim of phishing scams, do not click on links in suspicious emails. Always check the legitimacy of a website before entering any sensitive information. When in doubt, reach out directly to your bank or the organization/company concerned through their official email or contact number.

SMS fraud

A fraudulent SMS may contain malicious links to steal sensitive information like credit or debit card numbers, PINs, and bank account passwords, typically in the guise of a legitimate company or trustworthy person. To avoid falling victim to SMS fraud, do not respond to suspicious SMSes or click on any links. If unsure, contact your bank or the organization/company concerned directly through their official email or contact number.

Tips to Use ATM/Debit Card Safely

Besides the benefit of convenience, ATMs are also generally safe and secure to use. Still, as with most things financial, criminals look for ways to defraud unsuspecting victims. Here are a number of things you can do to ensure you don't fall victim to such schemes:

  1. Card: A good rule of thumb is to treat your card like cash. Never lend it to anyone, and always put it back in your wallet after use; do not leave it lying around carelessly.
  2. PIN: Memorize your PIN, and do not write it down on the back of your card. Refrain from using easy-to-guess numbers like your birth date or phone digits, and never share them with anyone. In the event of fraud, it's difficult to track down the culprit(s) if you have shared your PIN with someone else. Basically, protect your PIN like you would protect the password to your online accounts. If there's a queue behind you while using the ATM, use your body and/or your hand to shield the keypad as you punch in your pin.
  3. ATM: Opt for ATMs in well-lit, visible areas, especially at night. Avoid ATMs in secluded areas. If you notice something unusual or unfamiliar about a particular ATM, find another to use and inform the bank about the discrepancy. If you notice it after you have already begun your transaction, simply cancel the transaction and find another machine.
  4. Environment: When using the ATM, be alert to your surroundings. If using a drive-through ATM, make sure your car doors are locked, and windows rolled up, except the window from where you're transacting. If you have to step out of your car to use the ATM, make sure you lock your car doors properly after you alight, and keep your keys handy for when you return. Do not accept "help" from random people hanging around the ATM. If the machine retains your card, contact the bank through official channels immediately.
  5. You: Be efficient at the ATM. Know exactly what you want to do before it's your turn. Have your card handy so you won't have to stand around digging in your bag or pocket for it. And don't forget to retrieve it, along with your receipt and any other personal belongings, at the end of your transaction. There is no need to count your money at the ATM. If indeed there are any discrepancies when you count later, contact your bank. You cannot argue with the machine.

What to do if you suspect ATM/Debit Card fraud

Keep an eye on your bank alerts/statements and report any suspicious transactions to your bank immediately once you notice them. The sooner you report, the greater the chances of stopping the fraud before it goes too far.

ATMs are here to stay because they are super convenient and easy to use. By adhering to these practices, you can reasonably ensure safety while going about your business.

Don't forget to share this article with your beloved ones, whether your daughter or son, to remind them about these essential tips to stay safe when using an ATM.

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Dania Nwizu is a creative entrepreneur based in Lagos, Nigeria. She spends most of her time writing, telling food stories and walking on water.

This article is intended to provide general information about finance and investments and does not replace or should be taken as professional financial advice. The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article except information on Citibank N.A. – UAE products referenced herein.
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