ATMs: Your Money, Your Security

Technology has certainly changed the way that a lot of consumers choose to conduct their financial transactions. Debit cards and mobile wallet apps mean not having to carry cash and gift cards let you give someone an open-ended gift without having to drop cash in an envelope. Additionally, online payment methods have made it possible to send money across the country or to the person right next to you just by tapping your smartphone screen.

But just because we have more high-tech options these days, that doesn’t mean that cash is out of favor, and neither are ATM machines. In fact, as banks have worked to compete for customers with perks like no-fee ATM transactions no matter which bank’s machine you use, you might even see more of them in your favorite places.

With the new year in full swing, now’s a good time to think about keeping yourself and your identity safe as you use ATMs for quick cash. A lot of it might seem like common sense, but as anyone with too few hours and a packed to-do list can tell you, these things might fall by the wayside when you’re in a hurry.

  • Be Self-Aware – It’s always a good idea to pay close attention to your surroundings, but there’s probably no more important time than when you’re using an ATM. Why? Because you’re basically wearing a sign on your back that says, “I have cash in my hand.” Look around you as you conduct your transaction, and don’t be distracted by your phone.
  • Take It Inside – If you have the opportunity to use an ATM located inside a well-lit store or mall, that can be safer than one located in a darkened parking lot. Just remember that indoors doesn’t mean you can let your guard down; you’re minimizing your risk by heading inside, not eliminating it. NOTE: many banks waive the transaction fee for using a different bank’s “safer” ATM after dark, so find out if your bank has such a policy.
  • Be Ready – When it’s your turn to use the ATM, have your card already in hand. As soon as the cash is dispensed, put it away. You can always count it in your car if you need to, but don’t stand with your funds in plain sight.
  • Multiple Transactions – A lot of ATMs will ask you an important question when you’re finished with your transaction: “Would you like to make another transaction?” It’s important to stick around long enough to tell it no and close out. Fortunately, some ATMs won’t give your card back—assuming you had to fully insert your card instead of swiping—until you answer this question.
  • Lost Card – If you did insert your card into the ATM and left without retrieving it, call your bank immediately and place a block or hold on your account. Don’t just assume the machine held onto your card or that no one came along after you and found it.
  • Ignore the Hoaxes – There’s a hoax that’s circulated for decades about what to do if you’re held up at gunpoint at an ATM. No, entering your PIN number backward does not call the police!

For more ATM security information, check out this Fact Sheet from the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Questions about identity theft? Contact the ITRC toll-free at (888) 400-5530 or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.

Read next: Uber’s New Policy Affects Customer Privacy

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