What is an ATM Skimmer? How to Protect Your Bank Account When Withdrawing Cash

ATM skimming can happen anywhere, but knowing what to look for can help keep your account and money safe.

3 min read

If you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to spot it. But if you don’t, you might wake up and find some strange transactions on your account from a country you’ve never visited. ATM skimming can happen anywhere, but knowing what to look for and best practices for avoiding it can help keep your account and money safe. Here’s how to protect yourself.

What is an ATM skimmer?

An ATM skimmer is a malicious device that thieves attach to ATMs in order to steal your card information. Usually it’s a magnetic stripe reader stuck on top of or inside the default card reader. It’s frequently paired with a device that retrieves your card’s PIN number like a tiny video camera hidden near the ATM or a fake PIN pad attached on top of the original.

Thieves build these gadgets themselves and then install them on ATMs. There are many different kinds—some looking obvious and can be easily removed, but some are more difficult to spot. Some skimmers save the data on the device itself, meaning the thief needs to retrieve the device to download the stolen data. Others contain a system that sends the data over a GSM network.

When withdrawing money, always pay close attention to any objects attached to the machine and its surroundings. A slight discoloration of a card reader could be a tip-off, as could a keypad that looks newer than the rest of the device.

There are two ways thieves can use your card information. Generally, they’ll transfer it onto a homemade credit card and use it with your PIN to make purchases. Alternatively, they might sell your data on the black market. That’s how suspicious transactions in far-flung countries occur.

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ATM skimming can happen anywhere, from traveling in rural India to working in downtown Chicago. Skimming frequently happens in public areas or on ATMs outside banks (in convenience stores or malls for example). If you’re traveling, be extra watchful since you might need to make withdrawals at airports or train stations. ATMs in crowded spaces are insecure since no one regularly watches them. That makes tampering easier.

How to protect yourself from skimmers

When traveling, try to limit your number of withdrawals. It’s always harder to spot when something is amiss in a foreign environment.

Try your best to only withdraw from ATMs during the day in heavily populated areas, as it will be harder for thieves to tamper with the machine. Again, it’s best to closely inspect the machine before inserting your card. Wiggle around on the card reader and give the PIN pad a quick once-over.

But most importantly, just trust your gut. If something seems strange—like if it’s difficult to insert your card, find another ATM.

Keeping your money secure at N26

There’s a lot we do to keep your money safe at N26. And while it might not be easy to spot if an ATM machine has been tampered with, managing your N26 account activity is effortless. 

We send an instant notification to your phone for all account activity, including ATM withdrawals, payments, and deposits. This way, you know what’s happening in your account at all times and can spot if something is awry the moment it happens. You can also reset your PIN number, set spending and withdrawal limits, or lock your card completely instantly with just a few taps in the N26 app. 

Want to read up on security? Here are a few helpful links you might like:

Get to know all of the security features we offer with your 100% mobile bank account.

N26 does not manage external links, and is not responsible for the content, links, products or services of these websites. Further, N26's privacy and security policies do not apply to external linked websites. Please consult the disclosures of any external linked websites for further information.

The N26 account is offered by Axos Bank®, Member FDIC. N26 Inc. is a service provider of Axos Bank. All deposit accounts of the same ownership and/or vesting held at Axos Bank are combined and insured under the same FDIC Certificate 35546. All deposit accounts through Axos Bank brands are not separately insured by the FDIC from other deposit accounts held with the same ownership and/or vesting at Axos Bank. The N26 Visa® Debit Card is issued by Axos Bank pursuant to a license by Visa U.S.A. Inc. The N26 Visa Debit Card may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

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