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Seattle bank’s app among numerous technologies targeting ATM theft, other fraud

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 7, 2017, 7:13 p.m.

A HomeStreet Bank ATM on Riverside Avenue in downtown Spokane. (Brandon Brown / The Spokesman-Review)
A HomeStreet Bank ATM on Riverside Avenue in downtown Spokane. (Brandon Brown / The Spokesman-Review)

A Seattle-based bank with branches in the Inland Northwest has rolled out technology to combat a type of theft known as ATM skimming – not a major problem at this point in the greater Northwest but an issue for financial institutions elsewhere.

HomeStreet’s answer to ATM skimming is a new feature on the bank’s mobile app called Cardless Cash. The feature, which only works at HomeStreet ATMs, allows customers to decide how much they want to withdraw before going to an ATM with their mobile device. Once at the machine, they scan a QR code on their phone and the machine dispenses the cash; no cards or pins are required.

The process of copying the magnetic strip on a credit or debit card and recording a PIN number is known as ATM skimming. Thieves hide devices inside ATM card readers and use small cameras to get this information and access funds in people’s accounts. Since debit cards and PINs are not used with HomeStreet’s new app, it is expected to stem ATM skimming attempts.

“This type of fraud is a growing problem for some institutions,” said Mark Mason, CEO and president of HomeStreet Bank.

ATM skimming has been in news headlines for years, including an example from October of a San Diego man stealing bank information from 13,000 cards in a skimming operation. But banking industry officials say this type of fraud is not as prolific as some might think. Of the nearly 500,000 ATMs in the U.S., only 1 percent or 2 percent of machines have skimming devices on them, according to ATMIA, a nonprofit trade association representing the industry. A 2017 survey by the National ATM Council found that 1 in 10 retail ATM locations have had a report of a skimming device in use.

As more and more banks change over to EMV chip technology in debit and credit cards, ATM skimming is becoming less of a problem, according to a report by the NAC. Skimmers will not work on chips.

“Data we have seen from other countries indicates increased skimming activity during this migration period,” NAC Executive Director Bruce Renard said. “We are pleased that the vast majority of retail ATMs in the U.S. has remained free from skimming activity thus far.”

In Washington state, the attorney general’s office has heard of few ATM skimming allegations, spokeswoman Brionna Aho said.

Federal law protects consumers against unauthorized transactions on their account, but someone has to pay for fraud. According to the 2017 Identity Fraud Study by research firm Javelin, banking fraud cost banks $16 billion in 2016. This is why banks want to be ahead of the curve when it comes to security technology.

In their fight against theft and fraud, financial institutions use a number of technologies to protect their funds. Among them, STCU has “multi-factor” security for its online banking accounts. To login to accounts, customers must go through multiple security steps, including security questions, text security codes or security tokens.

Horizon Credit Union has partnered with MobiMoney, an app that allows customers to turn their credit and debit cards off and on and limits card use based on location, merchant preferences, transaction type and amount. And Bank of America is one of many banks that offer what it calls “Text Banking,” which lets customers get account information through text messages without exchanging personal information, such as full account number, PIN or email address.

Biometrics, blockchain and artificial intelligence are some of the technologies that banks are working on to increase security, according to Faisal Husain, the co-founder and CEO of Synechron, a financial services consulting and technology firm.

Mason, HomeStreet Bank CEO since 2010, said that just a few years ago, customers were not very interested in fraud, but that has changed.

“People have become more concerned about their own information,” he said.

Mason, who said no skimming incidents have been reported at HomeStreet Bank ATMs, said this heightened consumer interest is an opportunity for HomeStreet to attract more customers to its banking services.

“Banking is a a very generic industry. We all have the same products,” Mason said. “We have to set ourselves apart from other financial institutions.”

One of the ways to do that is to offer new technology that excites customers, such as the cardless cash app.