Avoiding ATM "Skimmer" Threats

A security expert has posted photos of a device that could cost your small business dearly if you fall prey to it: an ATM "skimmer."

Matthew McKenzie, Contributor

January 21, 2010

2 Min Read

A security expert has posted photos of a device that could cost your small business dearly if you fall prey to it: an ATM "skimmer."Brian Krebs' latest blog post includes photos and a detailed description of an ATM skimmer that was found attached to a machine in Woodland Hills, CA. The skimmer fits over the card intake slot of a legitimate ATM, reading a victims' debit or credit card information as they insert their cards.

The device pictured in Krebs' post even includes a motion-activated pinhole camera aimed at the ATM's control pad to record a victim's PIN.

I strongly suggest checking out Krebs' full blog post for additional pictures. Being able to recognize a skimmer could save your company thousands of dollars and a world of trouble.

A skilled thief can build an ATM skimmer out of parts scavenged from MP3 players and other easily available components. A well-built skimmer will fit smoothly -- but usually not seamlessly -- over the mouth of the machine's card reader.

Thieves realize that a reader gives them an effective, and relatively safe, way to gather card data and PINs from their victims. When the scam works, they can retrieve the device at their convenience; when it doesn't, they simply spend a few dollars to build another skimmer and try again elsewhere.

Krebs offers some sound, common-sense advice on how to avoid this scam. "Practice basic ATM street smarts and you should have little to fear from these skimmers: If you see something that doesnt look right  such as a odd protrusion or off-color component on an ATM  consider going to another machine. Also, stay away from ATMs that are not located in publicly visible and well-lit areas."

Needless to say, ATMs attached to physical bank branches -- especially during regular business hours -- are probably less vulnerable to skimmer attacks. The next time you visit an ATM during off hours or at a stand-alone location (including drive-up ATMs), don't let convenience outweigh the need to protect your small business against these increasingly common attacks.

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