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ATM Fraud: What Travelers Need to Know

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What Is ATM Fraud?

Automated teller machine fraud, usually called ATM fraud, involves capturing your debit card number and using it in unauthorized transactions. Because you need a personal identification number, or PIN, to complete a debit card transaction, ATM fraud also includes stealing your PIN.

ATM fraud is similar to credit card fraud from the perspective of the criminal. The criminal uses a device to steal your ATM card number, finds a way to obtain your PIN, and drains cash from your bank account at points of purchase or at ATMs.

ATM Fraud Liability

One difference between ATM fraud and credit card fraud is customer liability. In the United States, your liability for your loss when a fraudulent ATM transaction takes place depends on how quickly you report the problem. If you report the transaction, or the loss / theft of your debit card, before a transaction occurs, your liability is zero. If you report the problem within two days after receiving your statement, your liability is $50. From two to 50 days after receiving your statement, your liability is $500. If you report a problem more than 60 days after receiving your statement, you are out of luck. The 60-day reporting limit applies even if your card is still in your possession.

Types of ATM Fraud

You may be wondering how fraudulent transactions can occur if your ATM card is in your wallet where it belongs. There are several kinds of ATM fraud, and creative criminals are inventing more ways to separate you from your money all the time. Types of ATM fraud include:

  • Physical theft of your card;

  • Skimming, which involves theft of your card's magnetic stripe data using a portable device or a reader that attaches to the outside or inside of an ATM machine, combined with theft of your PIN via a small camera, fake keypad or direct observation;

  • Theft of your card's magnetic stripe data and PIN by causing your card to become stuck in the ATM's card reader, which, in turn, will prompt the ATM to ask you to re-enter your PIN;

  • Stealing cash dispensed by the ATM using bill-stealing claws or traps;

  • Creating fake ATM cards, using information stolen from banks' computer systems. This type of fraud is becoming more common.

Tips for Avoiding ATM Fraud Before You Travel

Notify your bank or credit union's fraud protection department of your destinations before you travel. As part of this process, sign up for fraud protection email and telephone alerts from your bank.

Choose a PIN that is not easily duplicated. Avoid easy combinations of numbers, such as 1234, 4321, 5555 and 1010.

Protect your PIN and ATM card as you would cash. Do not write down your PIN.

Bring alternative methods of payment, such as a credit card, in case the worst happens and your debit card is stolen.

Carry a list of bank and credit card fraud department telephone numbers with you during your trip.

Tips for Avoiding ATM Fraud During Your Trip

Carry your ATM in a money belt or pouch while you travel, not in your wallet or purse.

Check each ATM before you use it. If you spy a plastic device that looks as though it has been inserted into the card reader or duplicate security cameras, do not use that machine.

Protect your PIN. Hold your hand or another object (map, card) over the keypad while you type in your PIN so that your hand motions cannot be filmed. Even if your debit card is skimmed, a thief cannot use the information without your PIN.

If other people are waiting near the ATM, use your body to shield your actions as well as your hands. Even better, have your travel companions stand behind you to block the view of your keystrokes from observers.

Do not allow waiters, cashiers or anyone else to take your debit card out of your sight. Ask that the card be swiped in your presence, preferably by you. Make sure your card is swiped only one time.

Monitor your bank balance while you travel. Be sure to do this in a secure way; do not use a public computer or open wireless network to access bank balance information, and do not use a cell phone to call for balance information. You can sometimes check your balance on your ATM receipt.

Check for text, email and voice mail messages from your bank on a regular basis so that you do not miss fraud notification alerts.

What to Do If You Are the Victim of ATM Fraud

First, call your bank right away. Make a note of the time, date and purpose of your telephone call and the name of the person you spoke with.

Follow up your telephone call with a letter that summarizes the specifics of your telephone call.

In the United States, contact the local police and / or the Secret Service if you believe you have been the victim of ATM fraud.

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