3 ways to avoid ATM attacks

Jackpotting, skimming, cash traps … what’s a bank to do? Here, experts offer their best criminal-thwarting advice.

By Karen Epper Hoffman

Cybersecurity might score the biggest headlines these days, but fraud at ATMs continues to be a popular method for criminals aiming to score some quick cash. The best course of action for community banks? In short, be vigilant—and teach employees and customers how to do the same. Here are three ways to go about it.

1. Get employees involved.
As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Banks need to make their frontline employees aware of the ATM attack threat so that they can better support and help customers. “Our strongest defense is having an employee physically inspect the machines every day to look for skimmers, shimmers, cash traps, covert cameras and the like,” says Mark Autrey, chief information officer at $355 million-asset Four Corners Community Bank in Farmington, N.M. “We utilize through-the-wall ATMs whenever possible to limit the access to the machine, and have locks and alarms on our drive-up ATM access hoods for protection from hijacking.” Mary Ann Miller, senior director and fraud executive advisor for NICE Actimize, adds that community banks “should adopt a process to keep the application software and operating system running on their ATMs up to date to ensure that they have the latest security patches.” ATM operators must keep their antivirus software and other security programs such as firewalls updated, she adds.

Quick stat


Rise in the number of debit cards compromised at ATMs between 2016 and 2017

2. Inform customers how to protect themselves.
Educate bank customers about how they should select an ATM that gets a lot of foot traffic or is in a well-lit area. Let them know to be on the lookout for anything odd about the ATM or point-of-sale machine—for example, if their card doesn’t enter an ATM smoothly, a fraudster could have a skimmer device attached to the opening. Encourage customers to review their checking account regularly for any unauthorized transactions. If their card has been compromised, they will have to act fast to avoid losing money.

3. Encourage customers to keep tabs on their debit usage.
The number of debit cards compromised at ATMs and merchant card readers rose 10 percent in 2017, according to FICO. Instances of ATMs and card readers being targeted rose 8 percent. The increase follows two years of larger spikes in this kind of fraud, according to Michael Betron, senior director of product management at FICO. In data breaches last year, 16 percent of victims had a debit card number compromised, and 3 percent a debit card PIN, according to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research. Customer vigilance is everything.

Karen Epper Hoffman is a writer in Washington state.