When it comes to writing a personal financial column as I do, I believe one of the most important things is to keep people informed about scams that attempt to separate people from their hard-earned money. With technology as it is and with the advent of the internet, the number of scams has been increasing dramatically. That is why I always want to devote time in this column to those scams. It’s important to realize that in today’s world these financial scams impact everyone. The rich, the poor, old, young, the educated, the uneducated and everyone in between; the bottom line, scams affect everyone.
A scam that has been around for probably the last decade has taken off over the last few years. This scam I am talking about is ATM skimming. According to recent reports, the number of people affected by ATM skimming has increased by well over 500 percent in the last few years. ATM skimming is where a criminal attaches an illegal card reading device on an ATM machine, a gas pump or on other public-area machines that process debit cards. When you put your card into one of these machines they skim the information stored on the magnetic strip. In addition, through the use of a hidden camera when you use the ATM they are able to capture your PIN number as well. With your PIN along with the information on the magnetic strip they can either make a duplicate of your card and go to town on your dime, or they can sell your information on the black market.
The crooks know that it is very difficult for you and I to determine whether the ATM we are using has a skimmer attached to it or not. However, that being said, there are some things you can do to lessen the risk. The first thing is to be cautious as to what ATM you use. Preferably, you should use your bank ATM. Not only are the security procedures better at banks, but also, you can save on ATM fees by using your own bank’s machine. I recommend that you avoid the ATM’s that you find at places such as gas stations, party stores and bars. These machines have a higher likelihood of being tampered with and thus, should be avoided. In addition, you want to avoid any ATM that appears to have been tampered with. If something just doesn’t seem right such as the card reader being loose, walk away.
When you use an ATM or any charge card machine where you have to enter your password you should make sure that you keep one hand over the touch pad so a camera can’t see your PIN as you enter it. By protecting your PIN the crooks will not be able to access your account.
Lastly, what you also want to make sure of is that you monitor your bank account for unauthorized withdrawals. You have protection under the law; however, it is up to you to monitor your account and notify your financial institution of a breach in a timely matter. Most banks and financial institutions will send out alerts when your account is accessed. If your financial institution offers this it’s a good idea to sign up for it.
Technology was supposed to make our lives easier and in many ways it has. However, on the other hand, technology has allowed for a new generation of crooks to use more and more sophisticated ways to steal from us. I wish there was a 100 percent way to avoid scams but there isn’t. That is why it is always important to keep our eyes and ears open, monitor our accounts and put up enough speed bumps to reduce the likelihood that we will be scammed.
Rick is a fee-only financial advisor. His website is www.bloomassetmanagement.com. If you would like Rick to respond to your questions, please email Rick at -.