In this (arts and) crafty con, thieves glue down certain ATM buttons — "enter," "cancel" and "clear" — to prevent you from completing a transaction after inserting a cash card and keying in a PIN. Frustrated, you leave the machine to report the problem and crooks move in to complete the withdrawal.
It works, say police, because many people don't realize that, on many ATMs, you can use the touchscreen as well as the physical buttons for the final steps of getting cash. That's how the crooks get your cash.
In machines with this feature, an on-sceen tab that says something like "press here" can be touched to complete a transaction instead of using the "enter" key.
So far, this gotcha-with-glue scheme has turned up only in California.
A similar ploy showed up last year in India. In that case, New Delhi police arrested a man who allegedly glued down keypad buttons and then used a screwdriver to release and push the stuck "enter" key while the victim walked off to report the jammed machine to bank officials.
In addition to glue, other innocuous household items have been pressed into service by ATM crooks:
- Napkins or plastic sheets. They're stuffed into the cash dispenser to block the release of money. From there on, the ruse is the same as with glue: When you go to seek help, thieves dislodge the block and pull out the cash.
- Camera film or aluminum foil. It's slipped into the card slot to trap your card inside the machine. After you leave to get help retrieving your card, the crooks use basic tools to remove the trap and grab the card.
Stuck Keypads Versus Skimmers
So if keypad buttons are stuck, see if you can complete your withdrawal using the touchscreen feature. If you can't, or cash doesn't dispense or your card is trapped inside after you've entered your PIN, try not to step away from the ATM. If you have a cellphone, take it out and call your bank from the ATM.
Despite low-tech tricks like these, electronic devices known as skimmers remain the go-to method for en masse ATM theft. Skimmers, which can be purchased online, are placed over the ATM's card slot to scan information encoded in the magnetic strip of debit cards.
The devices can capture data from hundreds of cards before scammers retrieve them and use the data to make duplicate debit cards. In the meantime, miniature spy cameras placed at the ATM have recorded the finger strokes of card owners entering PINs. The thieves now have all they need to make multiple cash withdrawals.
Even without a PIN, duplicated Visa or MasterCard debit cards can be used to make online purchases.
Check Lights, Wiggle Card Slot
Most ATMs have a flashing or steady light at the card slot. If you don't see that, it could indicate that a skimmer's been attached. (But keep in mind that some older ATMs don't have those lights.)
Another precaution is to wiggle the card slot before inserting your card. If it's not securely attached or has a different color from the rest of the ATM, use another machine. (And always cover the keypad as you enter your PIN, because a spy camera may be watching.)
Even if you're unaware of problems when you use an ATM, you should always carefully review your bank statements as soon as you get them to detect any fraudulent withdrawals, as skimming scams often go undetected until accounts are drained.
Banks usually reimburse customers of ATM scams, but policies vary and some banks might not pay up if you wait too long.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.