2008-10-31 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER When was the last time you went to the bank teller window to withdraw cash from your bank account? Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) allow consumers to perform banking transactions in a quick and convenient manner. Despite the benefits of ATMs, questions linger as to the safety of using these machines, especially those that are unenclosed, or those operated by businesses other than financial institutions, often referred to as non-bank ATMs. Are non-bank ATMs, which are often located in gas stations, malls and convenience stores, safe to use? State and federal law protects consumers who use ATMs, but, consumers should be aware that in recent years identity thieves have successfully targeted these machines.

What if your bank account is compromised after you use an ATM? What if you lose your ATM or debit card? The federal Electronic Funds Transfer Act protects consumers using debit and ATM cards at all ATM machines, including non-bank ATMs. The Act limits a consumer's liability for an unauthorized transfer to a maximum of fifty dollars if the consumer notifies his or her financial institution of the unauthorized use within two business days and to a maximum of five hundred dollars if notice of the unauthorized transfer is provided within sixty days. Consumers who fail to report within sixty days may be liable for the entire amount of the unauthorized

transfer. Therefore, it is essential to report any suspicious activity to your bank as soon as you discover it. Check your banking statements and accounts often in order to avoid a costly surprise. What should you do if the appearance of the ATM machine you regularly use changes?

Identity thieves have been known to place "skimmer" devices on top of existing ATM machines that surreptitiously record the account information contained in the magnetic strip of a user's card. The thieves obtain a victim's PIN number through the use of a hidden camera or spotter in the facility. When this information is combined, the thief may obtain access to the victim's account, or worse, sell the account information on the black market. To protect your account, keep the following tips in mind. Never use an ATM that seems to have been tampered with or a machine with an unusual appearance. Always stand close to the machine and use your free hand to obscure the ATM keypad while you are typing your PIN. Consider using ATMs located at banks, as nonbank ATM are often under less supervision, and are therefore more vulnerable to tampering by identity thieves. In order to combat skimming, I sponsored legislation in the Assembly, which has been enacted into law, which prohibits the possession of skimmer devices with the intent to commit identity theft (A.11752).

You now know steps to take to protect yourself from identity thieves while using an ATM, but what about traditional thieves intent on taking your cash? New York's ATM Safety Act requires banking institutions that operate ATM facilities, available to customers after regular banking hours, to comply with certain safety standards, including providing adequate lighting and video surveillance.

For more information about ATM safety, you may want to visit the Banking Department's helpful webpage on using an ATM at: http://www.banking.state.ny.us/bruatm.htm. If you believe your account has been compromised by using an ATM, you should contact your bank and local law enforcement immediately.

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