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ATMs are a handy way to meet your cash needs while on vacation.  ATMs are, also, thief magnets.  Our article includes a number of recommendations to that should help keep you safe and secure while using ATMs.


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Travel Advice - Safety and security when using ATMs

The convenience of ATMs as a cash source during travel comes with several liabilities (some law enforcement officials suggest that ATM stand for "A Thief Magnet"). In the article that follows, we try to point out  issues that you should consider when using ATMs when traveling.

Always keep your ATM card in a safe place (See our article on Money Belts).

  • Remove the ATM card from your money belt only when you intend to use it.
  • Keep the card’s PIN (personal Identification Number) safe by memorizing it.
  • Do not list the PIN in any of your travel materials

It is claimed that the notorious bank robber Willie Sutton said that he robbed banks because “”…that’s where the money is….” Well modern day thieves have concluded the same thing about ATMs except the target is not the ATM, it’s you.


Before using the ATM

  •  If possible, take another person with you when you go to the ATM.
  • Observe the ATM site before you use it.
  • If you feel uncomfortable with the ATM's surrounding, listen to the warning and find another ATM in a more secure location.
  • Be especially cautious using ATMs at night.
    • Make sure no one is lingering near the ATM.
    • If the machine is poorly lit or in an out of the way location, give yourself some peace of mind and avoid it.
  • Have your card out and ready to use when you approach the ATM.
    • Do not look for your card in your purse or your wallet while standing at the ATM.
  • If you are using a drive-thru ATM, make sure that you car’s doors are locked and that all of the vehicle’s windows, other than the one adjacent to the ATM, are fully closed during the time you are in the drive-thru.
  • If the ATM is not a drive through, but you drive to the bank, make sure that you lock your car when you leave to perform the transaction.
    • You  do not want someone driving off in your car or a stranger inside your car when you return from the ATM.

While using the ATM

  • If the ATM is in a locked enclosure that can be opened only by swiping a valid ATM card through a reader on the door lock, make sure that you do not admit anyone else (who may indicate that their card will not open the door – hint: if their card will not operate the door, it will not operate the ATM either and you should not let them enter with you).
    • If they persist, slide you card down the door lock with the magnetic stripe to the wrong side ensuring that the door will not open for you either.
      • Tell them your card is not working  and just walk away – quickly).
  • If anything makes you uncomfortable during the transaction, hit the cancel button, and find an ATM in another location.
    • Be sure that you have cancelled the transaction and received your card back before leaving.
  • Make sure that your use you body to shield anyone’s view of the screen or the keys that you select on the keyboard to enter your pin.
  • Always request a receipt, if the system gives you the option.

After using the ATM

  • Immediately pocket the cash, card and receipt.
  •  Do not examine the receipt or count the cash right then as this is the best way to advertise that you have made a withdrawal (remember, you know you are going to the ATM to withdraw money but no one else does – you might be checking a balance).
    • So, be nefarious. Hide your movements, pocket the cash smoothly, and move on down the road. At a later, safer, more private time make sure that you received the correct amount of your withdrawal and that the receipt confirms your transaction.
      • Be sure to return your ATM card to your money belt as soon as possible.
  • If there is any issue with the transaction, call the bank issuing the card, as soon as possible.
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