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Posted: 12:00 a.m. Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to spot an ATM skimmer scam

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The ATM skimmer scam is making a comeback with some new technology being employed by criminals.

In years past, skimmer scams involved criminals attaching a rudimentary plexiglass device over the space where you put your card. That device contained a reader designed to capture your account info off the magnetic strip on the back of your card. The crooks would also use video cameras or binoculars to record the secret code you punched in.

Once they had both pieces of information, they could duplicate a blank ATM card and start emptying your account.

But the crime has now grown more sophisticated. A WUSA-TV reporter ran down a story explaining how criminals can now remotely harvest both your secret code and magnetic strip info from anywhere in the world.

Among the new developments are wireless readers and the use of a clear plastic overlay atop of the PIN pad. With those in place, they never have to return to the ATM and put themselves at risk of being caught.

Clark has been extreme about ATM safety for years now. He always feels the slot to see if a skimmer may be there before inserting his card. In general, any slot with too much wiggle action is suspect.

Thankfully, Clark has never found an ATM that seemed to have a skimmer and has experienced no security breaches.

The last time he tried checking for a skimmer, though, a store employee stopped him. The man thought Clark was vandalizing the machine! The consumer champ simply explained what he was doing and why he was doing it and was then allowed to proceed!

This is a one-second process you can use to safeguard yourself. If you suspect a skimmer may be in place, report it to the bank and don't use that machine.

The good news is that if someone does loot your account, you're not on hook for the money under the law. But getting the money back can be a lengthy process and you'll be bouncing checks all over town in the meantime.

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