25 February 2010

ATM Card Skimmers: Exposed

Many people have heard about ATM skimmers but most have never seen them, know how they work or most importantly, know what to look for. Below is intended to be a practical guide explaining all things ATM skimmers. It is hoped that this guide will contain some very interesting information. I know when I was first exposed to all of this information a few weeks ago, I was surprised at the quality of some of these devices which can be seen with some of the images included below. I doubt very much if I would have noticed them. Lets get into it.

What is ATM Skimming?

ATM skimming is a problem the world over. Skimming is a method where criminals capture the data
from the magnetic strip on the back of ATM cards. Along with the collection of this data, the method also involves capturing the PIN as well which will be discussed below.

The devices used for capturing the details of ATM cards are often the size of a deck of cards or smaller and are fastened to, or in close proximity of, the ATMs factory installed card reader. And they are often very difficult to see unless you are looking for them.

PIN Capturing

To be worthwhile, ATM card skimming groups also need to capture the PIN. Without the PIN, the cards details are worthless (unless it is a credit card). The most common methods of capturing the PIN are either by a very small video camera, or with another keypad which piggy backs on top of the original keypad.

Once the details from the cards magnetic strip are captured, along with the PIN, the electronic data is encoded onto fraudulent cards and the captured PINs are used to withdraw money from the victims accounts.

Spotting ATM Skimmers

The only real way to combat this is by spotting these devices on ATMs before we use them. As we will see, the difficult thing about all of this is that these devices are often professionally manufactured and appear to be original parts of the real ATM. Added to this, is that people often feel rushed when they are using ATMs as they have usually been lining up and have people waiting for them. The criminals that place ATM skimmers are no doubt aware of this and use this fact as a kind of Social Engineering to minimise the risk that they will be spotted.

There are two things we need to look out for:

1. The card reader, and
2. A small video camera or modified keypad.

The Card Reader

The card readers often appear to be original parts of the ATM. Things to look for are a slightly different colour and card readers which protrude a bit more than usual. Below are some images of card readers.
Standard left. Right appears standard also, but is an ATM Skimmer. Note the protruding face
ATM Skimmer which attaches over the original
Another ATM Card Reader which attaches over the original components
This skimmer has been removed from the ATM
Another ATM card reader
And another one
ATM skimmers come in all shapes and sizes
This is the rear of the previous card reader
Captured Data

Once captured, this data is normally sent to someone who is situated close by via either text message, bluetooth or by some other wireless means. Sometimes, they may have to actually collect the ATM skimmer from the ATM at a later date. Once they have that information, the intrepid criminal can then go and load that data onto new cards for them to use. Perhaps even hundreds of cards to sell. The missing link so far, is how they capture the PIN...

Video Camera or Keypad

As mentioned before, PINs are normally captured by either a small video recording device or by a keypad which piggy backs the original keypad. Below are some images showing just some of the ways this can be done.

The PIN capturing device sits on top of the original keypad
Small pinhole for miniature video capturing device inside the card reader
Looks normal?
Think again. This video capture device records you entering your PIN
Can you see this camera?
It was attached to the top of the screen
Data Plus PIN Equals Full Access

Once the criminal has both the data and the PIN, they can load that up onto some new cards and then go around and spend as they wish. Or they may decide to make quite a few of these cards and then sell them to other criminals.

Here are a couple of worthwhile links for more on ATM Skimming. Some of these links I drew upon for use in this guide:

Would you have spotted the fraud
ATM skimmers Part II
ATM Skimmer found Wachovia
and finally, from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia an excellent little document,
ATM Awareness Guide

Know What to Look For

Hopefully now, the reader will have a much better idea of what to look for next time they are about to use an ATM. I know personally, I too had no idea as to how difficult these devices were to find. It has made me wonder, has my card ever been skimmed? I really wouldn't know. Except for the fact that my account has had no suspicious withdrawals, I cannot say for certain because I was not looking and I doubt I would have noticed any of those shown above. I will most certainly be having a quick glance prior to using any ATM from now on. Hopefully you will too.

For more imagery, plenty can be found doing a Google Image search for "ATM skimmer" or "card skimmers" or anything similar to that. Also note that skimmers have also been found on petrol pumps as well (or gas pumps depending on where you are from).

So have you or anyone you know ever come across an ATM skimmer? Leave any comments below.

Top Image by catatronic

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5 comments:

  1. Well from the sounds of it, I have come across a card reader, and not even known it :/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Informative.

    My husband lost money travelling on business. The ATM took double the money each time it was used. The machine was a stand alone in a hotel. Our bank did nothing about it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Elias - I too would never have known if I had become the victim of one of these devices. Not much is generally known about them. I hope things didn't turn out too bad.

    Michele - Im glad you got something out of this post. Sorry to hear about the experiences of your husband. Hard to say if it was from an ATM skimmer. It could have been. It certainly sounds suspicious. I trust you have checked for any other suspicious transactions on that account since that time.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article, really informative!
    Self awareness is the key on preventing this financial frauds,identity theft and related crimes are rapidly increasing as the rise of technology.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This was great before reading this i never thought to ckeck but now i know thanks alot.

    ReplyDelete

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