9 Tips for Using an ATM More Safely
ATMs have made trips to the teller almost unnecessary. You can’t beat them for convenience when you want to grab cash or make a deposit. But before you swipe your bank card the next time, read these tips to make sure your safety smarts are on the money.
1. Do your banking during the day. If you have to use an ATM at night, bring a buddy.
2. Get in and get out. Be ready for business when you step up to the machine. Have your bankcard out and your checks signed. Avoid rooting through your purse, tapping around on your phone or doing anything that could make you appear vulnerable or distracted. The less time you spend at an ATM, the better. If you withdraw cash, slide the money straight into your wallet. Count it later.
3. Don’t leave your receipt. The Seattle Police Department recommends taking your printed receipt with you. You don’t want to divulge exactly how much cash you’ve just withdrawn to the stranger waiting in line behind you. It’s also a smart idea to reconcile your receipts with your monthly checking account statement given that machines do, on rare occasions, make mistakes.
4. Choose your ATM wisely. Avoid standalone ATMs in dimly lit areas or other locations that just don’t feel “right.” If you have the choice between an ATM on the outside of a building and one inside a bank or store, go inside, especially at night. If you do use an outdoor ATM, the Los Angeles Police Department advises choosing one in the center of a building, not on the corner. It’s easier for a crook to sneak up on you from around a corner, and easier for him to make a quick escape without being seen by others. If you regularly use an ATM at a specific bank location, the United States Federal Credit Union recommends alerting the branch to any conditions — poor lighting, overgrown bushes, etc. — that you feel might compromise your safety.
5. Guard against “shoulder surfers.” Stand as close to the machine as possible and shield the keypad with one hand in case a “shoulder surfer” — someone trying to sneak a peek as you enter your PIN — is nearby. Avoid this 21st century version of pick-pocketing by being aware of those around you.
6. Lock your doors at the drive-thru. The Electronic Funds Transfer Association suggests keeping your car engine running, your doors locked and your windows closed while using drive-thru ATMs. If something or someone makes you uncomfortable during a transaction, cancel it and drive away. If you sense you are being followed, drive straight to a police or fire station or a well-populated location.
7. Nix the bling. Leave the expensive jewelry at home. Why give would-be robbers extra incentive?
8. Act like you own the place. According to the LAPD, criminals are on the lookout for ATM users who seem confused or distracted. It helps to look like you’re in control, confident and fully aware of your surroundings.
9. If the machine looks wrong, walk away. Skimming is a practice in which fake card readers and keypads are installed on top of an ATM’s normal equipment. Once you swipe your card or enter your PIN, your banking information is sent wirelessly to a computer, giving a criminal access to your account. (Sometimes bad guys even plant miniature surveillance cameras to capture your PIN as you enter it.) To avoid falling victim to skimming, the FBI recommends using indoor ATMs and avoiding cash machines in touristy areas. And if an ATM doesn’t look quite right — because of a crooked card reader or something, like double-sided tape, that shouldn’t be there — don’t use it.