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BBB Tip of the Week: Safely using ATMs

How to use an ATM safely: First of all, try to use only ATMs inside banks and other buildings; these are least likely to have been tampered with. If you must use an outside ATM not visible to bank personnel, use the same one all the time so that you’re familiar with it. That way you’ll immediately notice if something is different.

A clean start: Before you begin, it’s a good idea to press the “enter,” “cancel” and “clear” buttons to be sure they’re in working order. If you get halfway through and they don’t work (or have been glued down by would-be thieves) use the ATM’s touch screen to finish or cancel your transaction. Never leave your card in the machine unattended. Call the bank on your cellphone, or ask someone else to go inside and fetch help.

More tips: Here are some additional tips for safe ATM transactions, courtesy of

• Be aware that scammers sometimes pose as Good Samaritans helping you with a recalcitrant machine when what they’re really doing is memorizing your PIN. Don’t let anyone close enough to “shoulder surf” your transaction.

• Check the ATM for external blocking devices such as film glued to trap ATM cards, card skimmers mounted beside the normal card slot with a sign saying “slide card here first,” or card skimmers labeled “card cleaner.”

• Watch for a wireless video camera mounted inside the ATM area. They can be made to imitate brochure holders, for example.

• Know that sometimes scammers create an entire fake ATM in shopping centers and other public places. Instead of cash, they give you a screen saying the machine is out of money or out of order.

• Report confiscated cards immediately. Again, don’t leave the machine. Call the bank from the ATM where your card was taken.

• Watch out for ATMs with extra signage or warnings posted on the machine. These could be red flags.

More info or report scams: Visit the BBB at Call (509) 455-4200 or (800) 356-1007.

Holly Doering, BBB editor