Yes, in the world of travel safety, there is a right and a wrong way to use an ATM, especially overseas. Used correctly, and you will be dining on delicious Basque cuisine at Chez Gladine’s; your only difficult decision to make for the evening is whether to indulge in chocolat à l’ancienne at Angelina’s (again). Used incorrectly, you could lose your card in the machine, wake up to an empty checking account, spend the evening filing a police report, or worse. Recently I received a new, more secure debit card from USAA. With the card, they included a list of safety guidelines when using an ATM. Their advice is below my additions are in italics.
General ATM safety rules:
Be aware of your surroundings, especially after dark.
- Actively look around you. Thieves are lazy – showing awareness can deter potential criminals since it demonstrates awareness; they will likely wait for the next victim since they know you will not let them sneak up on you.
- If you must use an ATM at night, consider taking someone with you. They should be standing watch, looking around behind you, not staring at the ATM with you.
- Secure your card and cash immediately after completing your transaction. Count it later after you are in a secure area; i.e., locked car, café bathroom, home, etc.
- Shield the keypad with your hand or body while entering your PIN.
- Do not leave your transaction statement. Keep it with you and compare it to your statement later.
Indoor ATMs are a great way to get off the street and have some privacy when you are taking out cash. This does not eliminate all threats; however. Some advice for improving upon it.
- When you enter or exit an ATM in an enclosed area, be sure to close the entry door completely.
- Do not open locked ATM vestibule doors for others; authorized customers should have their own access. I give you permission to be rude in this scenario. You may feel bad, but better that some stranger think you to be a bad person than to be locked inside after hours with a person whose intentions are not good.
- Do not allow any unknown persons to enter the ATM area when you are making your transaction. Be like Forrest Gump – “Seat’s taken”.
The drive through:
- If you use a drive-up ATM, lock all the doors and roll up the passenger windows. The ATM is a distraction that provides cover for a thief to reach into the car or, an uninvited guest to join you.
Before using an ATM, examine the area and the machine:
Do not use the terminal if you notice anything suspicious or that you deem unsafe. Some examples:
- The lighting around the ATM does not work.
- Signs of tampering.
- Unauthorized equipment attached to the machine (We’ll address this in full in a separate article).
Many countries still use cash for most transactions, which means that at some point you’ll likely need to take out money from an ATM. Unfortunately, ATMs are a great place to be robbed. They’re a bottleneck with cash involved, where your attention is diverted. Taking the above mentioned advice to make yourself safer while withdrawing cash will make the task a much safer one.
On a side note: At about halfway through this article I realized that there were a lot of ATM sub-topics that should be given more space. Thus, this will be my first in a series on ATMs: In part two we’ll talk about card skimmers and other scams, then in part three we’ll tackle what to do if you forget your code and lose the card.