by Kailey Hagen | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on April 12, 2020
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Follow these tips to keep your money -- and yourself -- safe.
ATMs offer a convenient way to access your savings, but as machines that spit out money, they're natural targets for thieves. These thieves don't even have to break into an ATM to access the cash; they can take it out of your hands, or steal your PIN and pretend to be you.
I'm not trying to scare you off from ATMs, but you need to be careful so you and your money stay safe. Here are seven tips to keep in mind when you visit an ATM.
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Only visit ATMs in well-lit, public areas, especially if you're visiting at night.
Thieves usually prefer isolated ATMs with poor lighting, where it's easier to catch victims off guard. They're much less likely to bother you when there are a lot of people around, so an ATM inside a bank or in a grocery store is generally safer than one on a deserted street corner. If you do have to visit an ATM that's isolated, bring someone with you if you can.
Before you approach an ATM, scan the area for any suspicious activity, like someone loitering around a corner or waiting in a nearby car. If you see anything like this, come back later or use a different ATM.
You also need to remain alert once you've withdrawn your money. Some thieves might follow you away from a public area. If you think you're being followed, contact the police and head for the nearest heavily populated area.
Keep all of your car doors locked when visiting an ATM, so a thief can't open a passenger door and climb in. You should also keep your doors locked when you're not in your vehicle, and never store your cash or debit card inside it, especially where it's easily visible. You should even avoid keeping money in the glove compartment -- this is one of the first places thieves check when searching your vehicle for money.
Thieves don't always have to attack or threaten you to get your money. Some install card skimmers on ATMs to capture people's debit card information so they can impersonate them later and withdraw money from their accounts.
Card skimmers usually need your card number and your PIN to work, so look carefully at the card slot and the keypad before using the ATM. Skimmers can be hard to spot. Look for any components that seem looser or bulkier than they should be, and keep an eye out for tape, glue, scratches, or anything that suggests a card skimmer might be in place. If you notice any of these, do not use the ATM, and notify the ATM owner immediately.
Someone waiting in line for the ATM behind you could peer over your shoulder and see your PIN if you don't guard it closely. If you forget to end your transaction before walking away, someone could use your PIN to withdraw more money from your account. Always shield the keypad and your debit card while you are completing a transaction.
If you feel like someone behind you is paying too much attention to your financial information, ask them to please back up and wait for you to finish your transaction, or leave without taking out cash and come back later.
As soon as you get your money out of the ATM, put the cash and receipt in your purse, wallet, or pocket and walk away quickly. Don't stop to count the money until you are in a secure area, away from the machine. Counting the money in front of the ATM leaves you less alert to potential threats and draws attention to all that cash in your hands.
Lastly, but most importantly, if someone ever approaches you at an ATM and demands money, give it to them, even if it's the last dollar you have. No amount of money is worth more than your life, and if you give the thief your money, he or she will probably leave. As soon as you're somewhere safe, contact the authorities and your bank to tell them what happened.
ATMs are usually safe, but you should always be cautious. When in doubt, trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right, stay away.
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