How to Stay Safe at the ATM

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Debit and credit cards have outpaced the use of cash in recent years, but there are plenty of instances where cash is needed, of course. ATMs are easy to find, and withdrawing cash from an automated teller machine (ATM) is one of the fastest ways to access cash. Although accessing cash via an ATM is certainly convenient, it can come with some risks.

When it comes to using an ATM, safety is one of the top concerns. Aside from avoiding one-off ATMs in poorly lit and low-traffic locations, there are a few more ways to protect yourself when using an ATM to complete banking transactions.

Be Alert

Being alert to your surroundings before you use an ATM is key to maintaining your personal safety. Some of the top ATM safety tips include visiting ATMs during daylight hours only and having a friend come along as an added safety precaution. Here are a few more helpful tips:

Observe the Area Surrounding the ATM: Try to use ATMs that are continuously monitored with surveillance video. If the ATM is located in a dimly lit area or is partially obstructed by surrounding buildings or trees, it may be best to find a different ATM. In addition, be mindful of any people in the area. If someone seems to be lingering near the ATM without completing a transaction, leave the area immediately.

Safely Use Enclosed ATMs: Many modern ATMs are located in secure booths that allow one person in at a time. These enclosed ATMs are accessed by inserting your ATM-enabled debit card into a slot that unlocks the door. If you arrive at an enclosed ATM that is occupied, always wait until the enclosure is empty before entering, and always close the door behind you before starting your ATM transaction.

Safeguard Your Cash: Always keep your cash concealed when going to the ATM to make a deposit or after withdrawing cash. Make sure you also shield your PIN from view when completing transactions. When using the ATM, stand directly in front of the screen, using your body as a barrier that keeps your transaction out of view from those queuing behind you. After your transaction, quickly put your cash and card away in a wallet or purse.

Be Smart About Drive-Up ATMs: When using a drive-up ATM, always lock your car doors and keep your windows up. If you need to exit your vehicle, do not leave it running while you use the ATM.

Time Management: Plan your transactions ahead of time and be sure you know what options to choose on the ATM screen. Don’t linger in front of the ATM screen too long. If your bank supports personal ATM preferences, configure these ahead of time to make your transaction even faster. Have your card ready as you approach the ATM and avoid counting money until you are safely back in your locked vehicle or another safe area.

Safeguard Your PIN

In addition to the ATM personal safety tips above, keeping your personal information safe at all times is also vital. One of the most important pieces of information is your personal identification number, or PIN. This number is used to make point-of-sale debit card transactions at retailers and to complete transactions at ATMs and inside banks. Never write down your PIN or put the number near your card, as thieves can easily use your written PIN to gain access to your bank account. Similarly, never share your PIN with another person, and be sure to memorize your PIN.

Other helpful PIN-related tips include choosing a PIN that is easy for you to remember, but hard to guess for others. Never use letters or numbers that relate to your birthday, initials, street address, and other information that’s easily accessible.  

When to Contact Your Bank

ATMs are computer-driven, and many are designed to shut down if something goes wrong. However, ATMs sometimes malfunction. If you are using an ATM and your cash is not dispensed or the machine keeps your card, attempt to stop the transaction by pressing the cancel button on the ATM’s keypad. If this does not work, call your bank’s customer service line immediately and report the incident.

You should also contact your bank in the following situations:

  • If an ATM or point-of-sale terminal is unable to read the chip or magnetic stripe on your card.
  • If you believe someone may have unauthorized access to your PIN.
  • If your ATM card is lost or stolen.

Depending on the situation, your bank may deactivate your missing, defective, or insecure card and issue you a new one as a replacement.

Additionally, skimming is a known issue with ATMs. Luckily, it’s often easy to identify an ATM that has been tampered with. Criminals place electronic devices on ATM machines to capture (or “skim”) PINs and other information inputted into the machine. Then, the thieves use this information to drain the cardholder’s bank account. Skimming devices give ATM readers a decidedly bulky look, so if you encounter an ATM or point-of-sale terminal that looks like a skimmer may be installed, don’t hesitate to contact your bank and report it. Keeping these safety tips in mind will minimize your risks when using ATMs.