How Cons Steal Your ATM Card

The Real Hustle shows two methods fraudsters can use to jack your ATM card and PIN. The first is the skimming method most of us are familiar with. The second is a lo-tech distraction-based method that, while interesting, seems a little higher risk than most card thieves are willing to put up with.

(Thanks to Matt!)


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  1. Willow01 says:

    I’ve been paranoid enough to tug on the area where the card reader is…..

    • yoink says:

      Did that for the first time today.

    • blogger X says:

      No Sir, you are not paranoid, neither alone…

    • Thomas Palmer says:

      That my friend, is not paranoia, that is smart. I do the same thing, even for ATMs that I pass by which look suspicious.

    • TheMonkeyKing says:

      Done that all this year…

      By the way, why are there Braille letters on the drive-through ATM?

      • AnthonyC says:

        Because putting the braille there is cheap. Designing a second model, and manufacturing two kinds of atm instead of one, are expensive.

        Just simple economics.

      • shepd says:

        Blind passengers (especially those sitting in backseat on the driver’s side).

        Don’t worry, I wondered that for the longest time too, until I read the article about the scooter lady that was refused at the drive thru.

    • carbonmade says:

      Hey, me too! I think that’s smart. I do it at every card reader–ATM, gas station, etc. I also look closely at the edges of the keypad for anything unusual.

    • seegull says:

      I get strange looks when it looks like I’m trying to tear the ATM apart.

    • zegron says:

      I do the same thing, even to my little Credit Union machine. To be fair theirs would be a little hard to put something on due to its design. I’d notice if the big green glowing plastic part of the card slot was missing.

      But always a good idea to check those ATMs. :-)

  2. wcnghj says:

    Just remember, with debit, you are liable for the first $50, with credit, you aren’t liable at all.

    • floraposte says:

      It’s a little more complicated than that. The law depends on your notifying the bank, and even for credit, you can be legally responsible for charges incurred before you notify them to a ceiling of $50 (though most banks won’t make you pay that). The law says debit and ATM cards have a higher ceiling, $500, if you don’t notify them within 2 days–Visa and Mastercard have capped that at $50 as a policy, but it’s not law, and it doesn’t apply to ATM cards not on the Visa/Mastercard network. States and individual banks may have more consumer-friendly limitations, of course.

      • wcnghj says:

        Right, debit reported within two days, under law carries a max of $50 loss. Reported between 3-59 days carries a $500 max loss.

        With credit, under law, reporting within 0-59 days is a $50 max loss. Under Visa/MasterCard Zero Liability, this is $0.

    • humphrmi says:

      How does using credit help you at an ATM? Unless you’re taking cash advances. Surely the credit card cash advance fees will outweigh the $50 liability on a debit card.

    • tbax929 says:

      That’s not necessarily true. There are banks that will hold you $0 liable, even on a debit. If your bank isn’t doing that, it’s time to find a new bank.

  3. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Why do I have this notion that if you explained how to protect your ATM card, but used angels and/or psychics in the steps, people would believe it more? I bet if you put it in a mass email and said Oprah and Jenni Jones said to take these steps, people would actually follow it.

    Or am I just getting cranky because I may be getting sick?

    • Naame says:

      The only reason you would see an increase in people taking more precautions if celebs started supporting the idea is that the information would get out to more people. I do not believe it would have much to do with the celebs themselves.

      Other than that, most would still do nothing because they just don’t care until something goes wrong which is perfectly fine if that is how they feel about it. Everyone has different feelings about how far one should go when it comes to security and problem prevention measures in general. It does eventually get to the point where trying to prevent too many problems becomes a problem in itself, but that limit differs for us all.

  4. From the cubicle of PGibbons says:

    Great show. Both marks were female, the sight of them pulling big wallets out of huge purses gave me shivers for their data safety. Too easy.

  5. rpm773 says:

    What, Libs have never stolen ATM cards? C’mon!

  6. fs2k2isfun says:

    While I’m all for being vigilant, stories like this seem to overstate the problem. ATM skimmers and other cons do exist, but it seems to me they are pretty rare.

    • brodie7838 says:

      Card skimmers are becoming more and more common, just a search on Consumerist alone will show you how many readers have found these lately

  7. almightytora says:

    So just in case you ever see that first lady and get her purse, her PIN in 1562. Why even bother showing her putting in her PIN? Most people can see where she pushed. (And yes, I tug on the card entry area to check for a skimmer and cover the pad area with my left hand while typing in my PIN.)

    That second lady, albeit naive, shows that distractions like that could happen.

    • Jakooboo likes dolphins. says:

      Don’t I know you from somewhere? :3 And I punch in my PIN with the palm of my hand… Like a keypad slap.

    • flyingember says:

      I thought 1592 but it could also could be 1582. either way, three options is much less than the 10,000 you have otherwise

  8. The Marionette says:

    I always check atms when i use them, even if I use the same atms all them time there’s always that chance that a skimmer on there makes it look like it was never modded.

  9. Jesse says:

    I generally try to only use ATM machines at bank branch locations. Those private ATM’s that you see in restaurants and bars always look suspect and I only use those if I’m held hostage because the venue doesn’t accept cards.

    • Thomas Palmer says:

      Skimmers have been found at Bank Brank ATMs too (I think Consumerist ran that awhile back). Banks do not really monitor the ATM there, just like they don’t monitor the ones everywhere else. Bank Brank ATMs are also more likely to be used.

    • madanthony says:

      If you find yourself being held hostage on a regular basis, you may want to consider making some changes to your lifestyle.

  10. Geblah187 says:

    I just like the term “shoulder surfing” … the next time my wife asks me why i’m standing there, looking over her shoulder … “oh, you know me. Just doing some shoulder-surfing”

  11. Wolfbird says:

    … or you could just get an ATM card with a chip on it. I had one of those old non-chip varieties and it was cloned all the time (3 or 4 times a year). Not that I really cared; my bank refunded every penny. I eventually got annoyed that I had to keep seeing them though and switched to a bank with a chip. No problems since, and they also have a “if our security sucks so much someone steals your money, we’ll refund it” policy. The ATMS have a sort of lock on them anyway, over $300 and you require the cardholder’s birthday (which cons don’t know, for the most part). So banks here will automatically freeze cards where $280 was withdrawn from a branch you are not known to frequent. It’s a pretty sweet system, really.

  12. laughingisfree says:

    The Real Hustle (British) has Jess as one of the cons, shes super hot and does a very good job at attracting new targets for the scam.

  13. iliketowel says:

    I live very close to Tompkins Square Park. It was a little unnerving to see them use a skimmer on an ATM that I’ve used recently.

  14. StarVapor says:

    When you look at an ATM machine, carefully note the area around the slot where you insert your card.
    If it is a different color than the plastic on the face of the machine or is not entirely level with the area around insertion the slot, don’t insert your card.
    Go into the bank and ask them to examine and verify the device for validity.

  15. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    i wonder if the mark had to go find a bank and redeposit her withdrawn cash immediately to avoid an overdraft fee on a pending charge or check?
    is the show liable for her overdraft fees if they screwed her account up?

    • Rain says:

      I would think they’d cover the fees. After all, you don’t want the woman complaining to the cops about how your show stuck her with an overdraft fee after skimming her bank card.