ATM and Debit Card Misuse

Unless you are built like Hulk Hogan or can fight like Chuck Norris, you should probably avoid getting large sums of cash from the ATM machine after dark, especially when the machine is located in a dark alley. We all understand that the bad guys are lurking in the shadows, waiting to take our money and valuables, if not our life. What we may not realize is that some of the bad guys are out during the day, and they have easier ways to obtain your personal information than strong arm robbery.

Many ATM machines are owned and operated by financial institutions, but others come under private ownership and merely access the ATM data network to receive authorization for transactions. If you use one of these machines, or a machine that belongs to a financial institution other than your own, you may not be familiar with the operation of that machine. For instance, your financial institution may only allow one transaction per swipe of the ATM card. You become accustomed to getting your money, taking the receipt, and walking away. However, many ATM machines will allow multiple transactions. It is possible that unless you tell the machine that you do not want any additional transactions, and verify that the machine returns to the welcome screen, the person approaching the ATM immediately after you can simply press the "YES" button for more transactions and then withdraw money from your account.

Other Considerations

It is always a good idea to keep any receipt offered by ATM machines or merchants. If you plan to throw the receipt away, do so at home by shredding it in a crosscut shredder. Do not throw the receipt away near the ATM machine, as it is simple for someone watching the machine to simply pick up the receipt and use the information. Occasionally, ATM receipts may show your name, account number, and account balance. This information should be protected for obvious reasons.

Be wary about leaving a debit/credit card receipt on the table in the restaurants. It is very easy for another patron or the restaurant staff to note the private information on the receipt (cell phone cameras are VERY handy for this), and later misuse or sell that information. Additionally, it is not a bad idea to turn your card face down on the check while waiting for your server to close out your bill. Cell phone cameras can easily snap a picture of your card for later use in making fraudulent purchases.

You should never write your ATM or debit card PIN numbers down, especially on the envelope with which many are issued. This makes it very easy for a thief to gain access to your account. Likewise, try not to use the same number for every card. If a thief guesses (or locates) the number used for one card, they can access all of your cards.

Also, do not use an easily guessable number from the information in your wallet or purse, such as your telephone number, street address number, zip code, last four digits of your Social Security number, driver's license number, etc. It is a bad idea to use any number that represents anything about you, your family, or your work as a PIN for an ATM card. Instead, use random, non-sequential numbers.

The Bottom Line

For many criminals, it is easier to steal information from places where you leave it unattended than it is to hit you over the head at the ATM machine. While you should always be fully alert to those around you when using an ATM machine, you should not let down your guard after you have completed your transaction.

These helpful tips are provided by Digital Defense, Inc., a computer security company working with your bank as a responsible member of the community to help insure the privacy and security of our nation's financial information.