How to Protect Your PIN When Using an ATM

By Eliza Daglish on September 10, 2012

Protect Your PIN Fraudsters across the country steal thousands of debit and credit card numbers each year at ATMs and point of sale machines. But it wasn’t always this easy, and there are a few steps you can take to protect your PIN from thieves eager to get into your most personal accounts.

The PIN is Key

Successful thieves usually collect credit and debit card numbers at ATMs and point of sale interfaces with a tool known as a skimmer. The skimmer is placed inside the swipe area and records the data from your card just like the ATM or POS interface should. A skimmer will not affect the processing of your transaction, and you won’t realize that your card was skimmed at all.

In the case of debit cards, however, the number is worthless without a PIN. Thieves also set up small pinhole cameras just above the keypad. When your card is swiped, and your PIN entered, the camera records the position of your fingers to determine which numbers a thief needs to press after duplicating your credit card from information recorded by the skimmer.

A very simple trick will keep your credit or debit card safe. When you use any ATM or POS machine, always cover the keypad with your other hand. Doing so will obscure any devices intended to record the movement of your hand. Without this critical information, thieves would have an unusable debit card or credit card entry in the skimmer recorder. The only way to collect the PIN without seeing your hand is to open the ATM or POS device to change the internal electronics. Doing so is expensive, time consuming, and far too technical and risky for low-level criminals.

Luckily debit and credit card users are protected by insurance from the bank that issues the card. However, reversing transactions is difficult, time consuming, and a process that is better avoided than used as a fall back plan. Stick to the basics of security and seek to prevent card thieves from stealing your cash by hiding your hand as you type in any PIN.

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