Home > Articles > Security > Network Security

The Truth About Identity Theft: Truth 27 -- ATM Scams

  • Print
  • + Share This
Can someone build a fake ATM to steal your card and pin? The author did. Learn how he constructed a fake ATM and how to protect yourself.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Throughout this book, I have discussed a variety of ways in which identity thieves have devised to separate you from your hard-earned cash. Thieves use everything from brute force to subterfuge to confidence schemes to technological wizardry to steal your money and perhaps even your identity. So by now it should come as no shock that identity thieves will even go so far as to set up a fake ATM to empty your bank account.

Identity thieves have used numerous techniques to attempt to gain people’s PINs. In some cases, they’ve placed a small camera hidden somewhere on the ATM. In one example, the thief made a fake flyer holder containing a tiny camera that was attached to the ATM. A small hole had been drilled into the holder so that the camera could see and record users entering their PINs. In other cases, thieves have taken a lower-tech approach and just sat near the ATM and used a high-powered lens to watch as people entered their PIN.

While fake ATMs got their start back in the early 1990s, most people have never given them a second thought. In fact, because ATMs now come in every size, shape, and color, most people would be hard pressed to know the difference between a real ATM and a fake one. With this in mind, I decided to see just how easy it would be to run this attack myself.

First, I decided I would try to purchase an ATM machine on eBay. While I did find ATM machines I could purchase, they were more expensive than I expected. And I thought even if I did purchase an ATM, I would have to reprogram it. So I decided to build my fake ATM.

After more searching, I discovered a college that was selling four large metal kiosks. The kiosks were seven feet tall and had plenty of room for a small monitor and keyboard. After winning the auction, I had the kiosks shipped to my corporate office, where several of our engineers got to work on them. We ordered large "No Fees!" stickers to cover the sides and front. I also ordered touch-screen monitors and magnetic strip readers. One of my engineers changed out the keyboard shelves and placed a nice sticker atop it indicating the types of cards that were accepted.

Once completed, my ATMs looked just like the real thing—at least at first glance. Had people paid close attention, they would have noticed there was nowhere for the money to come out, and there was no way to get a receipt. I assumed since this machine was never going to give money or receipts, no one would ever be looking.

Next, we wrote a basic program that would provide screen prompts for the user to insert a card, enter a PIN, and enter a transaction. Since the whole idea here was to prove that this could be done and not to actually steal anything, the program recorded only the last four digits of the account number and simply counted the digits in the PIN.

I now had several fully operational ATM identity theft devices. We loaded two of the machines into a rental truck and took them on the road. We ended up placing them in Austin, Texas, on 6th Street. This busy street is known for its many bars and nightclubs. My goal was to see if anyone would become suspicious and, of course, if anyone would actually use them.

To say that we had success would be an understatement. In just under five hours, we were able to capture 27 card numbers and could’ve captured the PINs if we’d wanted them. This means that had I been a real identity thief, I would have been able to take that information, make my own fake ATM cards, and go out on a shopping spree.

Of course, because the machine couldn’t dispense money, as soon as it was apparent that the user had been duped, I told them about the "scam." Interestingly, even after the machine had failed to process the transaction, the victims never thought there was anything malicious going on. When I pointed out obvious flaws, such as the missing money feeder, the victims would laugh and say they couldn’t believe they had missed that important detail. The comment I heard repeatedly was, "How can we tell a real ATM from a fake when they all look so different?" It’s a valid question without a simple answer.

Instead, I can merely offer a number of tips that, when combined, can help protect you from falling victim to this type of attack.

  • Beware if the ATM doesn’t charge fees. Private ATMs not associated directly with banks (often seen in service stations and bars) make their money through fees. While it’s possible that there could be a privately owned no-fee ATM out there somewhere, it’s definitely something to raise an eyebrow.

  • Look around. Is the ATM free standing? While ATMs can be anywhere, you want to avoid the ATM that is freestanding outside. Avoid ATMs that are not bolted to the side of a building or secured inside a facility. If you can walk up and start pushing the ATM down the street, this is generally a bad sign.

  • Take action if the ATM failed to process your transaction. Most ATMs do not allow you to attempt to sign in when they are out of service. Instead, nonfunctioning ATMs post a message onscreen indicating that they are down or offline. If the ATM shows an error message after you have submitted your card and your PIN, contact your bank immediately to report what happened.

  • Follow the layered approach. For example, if the machine offers no fees but it is attached to a building and everything processes properly, you are probably fine. It’s when you start seeing several of these tips combined that you should be seriously concerned.

  • If you use an ATM that doesn’t dispense cash, you are at far greater risk that it was a fake and should notify your bank of the potential risk to your account.

  • Pay close attention to the slot you slide in your card. If it looks strange or bulky, try to push on it with your hand. If something has been stuck over the real reader, it will wiggle or even come off. If you spot one of these, most likely, it’s a device that an identity thief placed on the ATM to read your card as you place it into the ATM slot.

  • Always be aware of your physical surroundings. Using an ATM late at night in an empty parking lot is asking for trouble. Also, it’s a good idea to shield the keypad with your hand as you enter your PIN to prevent a hidden camera from capturing your information.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020