Can ATM Operators Beat Skimmers By Simply Rotating Card Readers 90 Degrees?

One example of a skimming device that's been ripped from an ATM. Diebold thinks that changing the orientation of a machine's card reader will help stop skimming. (photo: Aaron Poffenberger)

One example of a skimming device that’s been ripped from an ATM. Diebold thinks that changing the orientation of a machine’s card reader will help stop skimming. (photo: Aaron Poffenberger)

For decades, we’ve been sliding our credit and debit cards into ATMs with the shorter side of the card entering the reader. All this while, ID thieves have been improving their card-skimming devices to fit this well-established mold. The skimmers have gotten smaller, sleeker, and smarter, to the point where even a trained eye might be fooled. So what’s the best way to upend all those years of hard work by the bad guys? According to ATM biggie Diebold, it’s just as simple as turning the reader 90 degrees.

The company is now making the push for its ActivEdge card reader, which Diebold claims in the video below thwarts every currently known type of skimming.

The most obvious feature of the reader is that cards would now be inserted with the longer side facing the machine — a change that both customers and, more importantly skimmer creators, would require some time to get adapt to.

Of course, the hope is that a consumers will more readily get used to inserting their cards a different way before ID thieves figure out a way to clone the new readers.

That said, there’s a lot of money to be made from card skimming so merely rotating the reader is really just a speed bump.

So Diebold says it also incorporated other ways of defeating skimming technology.

For example, each of these new devices is specifically paired with the machine to which it’s attached. Thus, it would be impossible — or at least really difficult — for someone to swap out a fake card reader for the original.

Additionally, Diebold says the new reader will have an encrypted read head, and that the data going from the reader to the ATM’s computer is likewise encrypted, meaning that your card information is not freely available to anyone tapping into that connection.

The company says it’s done real-world testing of the ActivEdge readers and it claims that consumers weren’t put off by having to rethink how they insert their cards into the ATM.

While we haven’t tried these new readers — and we’re always concerned when a company entrusted to protect our money makes hubristic statements like these — it’s nice to see someone try a new way to fight card-skimming.

It certainly can’t be worse than the pointless anti-skimming gas pump stickers that Shell employees can’t seem to figure out.

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  1. BikerGeek79 says:

    How come they can’t just encrypt the information that’s on the cards? That way skimmers wouldn’t matter at all, because the info that comes off the card would be gibberish.

    • ResNullum says:

      Do you mean something like chip and PIN? It’s my understanding the U.S. is the only country in the world that hasn’t widely adopted this mechanism, which is quite frustrating.

  2. furiousd says:

    While I do like that steps are being taken to address concerns of theft and fraud, I do wish that companies responsible for creating these technologies would remain one or more steps ahead of their criminal competition. For instance, instead of just addressing the current generation of skimmers, why not introduce tech to combat the next wave of skimmers by introducing biometric features such as face, voice, or fingerprint matching? I’d be quite surprised to see a way of thwarting a system which incorporates these features into the works.

    • AlaskanPixie says:

      Because the credit card companies aren’t creepy enough yet, so the should start collecting finger print/voice/facial recognition data?

      Chip and pin? That at least sounds reasonable.

  3. SuperSpeedBump says:

    Yeah, sounds nice and all, but I’m sure they’ve already figured out how to circumvent it. We need a new system entirely, and from what I’ve heard, Chip and PIN works pretty well.