2005-05-13 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer


Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer Where would we be without automated teller machines (ATMs)? These handy machines allow us to access our accounts with ease, enabling us to withdraw, deposit, and transfer funds at virtually any time and place. Unfortunately, identity thieves have found ways to manipulate ATMs, access personal information, and defraud consumers. Fortunately, caution can go a long way in protecting your identity and your pocketbook from would-be identity thieves.

I recently held a hearing on identity theft to learn how to better combat this rapidly growing problem. According to the various experts who testified, identity thieves manipulate ATMs and acquire the customer’s personal information in a process commonly referred to as “skimming.” This scam generally consists of two parts.

The thieves often hide a camera near the keypad to record your keystrokes, particularly your personal identification number (PIN) number. These cameras are often hidden in a stack of pamphlets. Additionally, the thieves attach a card reader over the ATM’s original card reader to read the card’s information.

Once they have both the PIN and the card information, they can easily access the cardholder’s account. There are two different types of skimming devices: those that interfere with ATM operation and those that do not.

ATMs that are outfitted with skimmers that interfere with the ATM’s operation will generally not allow the transaction to be completed. In this case, the consumer would be unable to access or deposit any funds since the actual ATM’s reader is not being used.

Often, the consumer would be told that an error had occurred. Skimmers that do not interfere with regular operation do not block the regular ATM reader, allowing the consumer to access their funds in a regular manner.

ATMs that require the user to swipe their card are more susceptible to skimming scams since it is easier for thieves to affix their readers to these machines. Non-bank owned ATMs are more likely to have swiping readers, and according to experts, this makes these ATMs more likely targets.

Furthermore, non-bank owned ATMs are not currently regulated in New York State. Avoiding non-bank owned ATMs is one way to help protect yourself from skimming.

Be sure inspect the ATM before using it. If the ATM looks strange, or anything appears to be out of place, or if there are any unusual signs displayed on the ATM, do not use it. Also, be wary of people who offer to assist you with your transaction. If your card is not returned to you after you complete your transaction, notify the bank immediately. It is also a good idea to carefully check your monthly statements. If you find a fraudulent charge, notify your bank immediately. The sooner you realize fraud is occurring, the sooner you can stop it.

To learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft, consider visiting the American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) website at www.aarp.org.

You may also want to visit the Consumer Protection Board’s website at http://www.consumer. state. ny.us/ or the New York State Attorney General’s website at www.oag. state.ny.us.

In addition to these resources, your bank should be able to provide you with some helpful information on identity theft.

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