Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Potential ATM fraud? Or absentmindedness?

So my mom and I went to the ATM the other day and wouldn’t you know it, somebody left the door open.

We had direct access into this ATM, but sadly, I couldn’t see any money :) Har har - I thought about a closer look but the alarm went off and I settled for an amused commentary to the nearby security guard. I should note that this ATM was right next to its host bank.

For those of you that haven’t heard of THIS scam (this is two entries in a row about scams, I realize) apparently thieves can intercept your bank account information via machinery surreptitiously installed in an ATM. Unbeknownst to you, the card information and PIN number you’re entering gets transmitted electronically to a third party who then goes on a Pina Colada and Marc Jacobs binge with your life savings. This would be mildly funny IF it hadn’t recently happened to a Peace Corps volunteer here in Guatemala. Apparently, girl hit a popular yet compromised ATM in Antigua (tourist central) and found her US bank account totally drained a few days later :( I’m sure she was much-less-than-thrilled.

It’s been happening a lot recently; here’s an editor’s warning from a tourist magazine in Antigua that amounts to a big fat caveat emptor, as the corresponding banks are taking zero responsibility for fraud committed on their machines.

Anyway, so we Peace Corps volunteers got a warning from the security office that we should be on the alert when choosing an ATM – pick an at least semi-guarded area where thugs wouldn’t be able to install their contraption, and at least examine the machine before you use it. Maybe shake it a few times, see if it’s been tampered with.

Recalling the advice, and convinced that if my mom got ripped off it would ruin her whole vacation, I gave her machine a little shake and wouldn’t you know the entire front end slid out:

(obviously I staged this video a bit, as you can already hear the alarm wailing in the background, but you get the picture; walk up, grab hold of the machine, and boom, you’re in.)

So – not too sure of what to make of this whole situation – disaster narrowly averted, or some ATM technician too bored to finish the job?


  1. It was a scary thing to see/hear first hand, knowing that we could have been ripped-off! If I remember correctly, we waited until we arrived in another town where there was an ATM "closet" next to a bank with a security guard. Also, that idea of a "small" account with direct access to your debit card is a good idea.