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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Monday, Nov. 4, 2013

The skimmer meets its match

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By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


Skimmers on ATMs may soon meet their match thanks to a new technology using your smartphone.

Los Angeles-based City National and Midwest banks Wintrust Financial Corporation and BMO Harris are testing what amounts to a card-less ATM transaction, according to CNN Money. So in lieu of using a debit card to withdraw from an ATM, you use your smartphone.

Here's how it works: First, you download a password-protected app to your smartphone. Then when you sign in, you let the app know how much you want out of an ATM. Finally, when you get to the ATM, you hold your smartphone up to the ATM's built-in camera and it reads a barcode on your smartphone's screen. The transaction is verified and then the machine spits out your money.

So the skimmer meets its match! There may be security issues with this new card-less system, but I can't discern any. The password protected app means that even if a crook steals your smartphone, they can't automatically use it to start making withdrawals from your account.

Very often, skimming takes place at the kind of independent ATMs you'd find at convenience stores, gas stations, and supermarkets. Fortunately, there are several ways to protect yourself that are very basic:

  • Grab the plastic slot on an ATM where you insert your card and shake it to make sure that it doesn't come loose. If it's moving up and down in your hand, there may be a skimmer attached.
  • Use your free hand to cover your other hand as you punch in your secret code. Remember, you may be on a crook's candid camera or someone may be viewing you remotely with binoculars.
  • If you don't carry huge money in your checking account, you might consider instituting a daily limit on ATM withdrawals. Check with your bank or credit union for more details.

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