Mature woman using an ATM holding shopping bags


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It's a story as old as time — well, at least as old as the internet. Scammers are constantly devising new ways to part us from our money. This time, they've resorted to ATMs as their weapon of choice in a sweeping scam seen across New York City. The scheme targets unsuspecting people (seniors in particular) and has already claimed "dozens of victims," says the NYPD. 

We dove into the details behind the scam, plus how you can protect yourself from future ATM scams.

How Does the Scam Play Out? 

An unsuspecting target enters an ATM vestibule and inserts their bank card. After putting in their PIN, an unfamiliar individual stealthily approaches them from behind and lays a few dollar bills on the ground. The swindler then draws the target's attention to the apparent cash they may have accidentally dropped.

According to the NYPD, while the victim bends down to retrieve the cash, the scammer swaps the victim's bank card with a counterfeit one. The scammer then makes off with the victim's real card and uses it to buy things and steal money from them. 

"I put my card in and hit my code. Just as I hit my code, I get a tap on my left side, I turn there’s a man standing there, he points down and says is that your money," Mark, a 75-year-old victim of the scam, told NBC New York.

"I’ve never been scammed in my life. I consider myself an awfully young 75-year-old. I never thought something like this could happen to me," Mark said.

Gallery: Watch Out for These Scams Targeting Seniors

What Can I Do to Protect Myself From Scams?

Unfortunately, Mark is only one of "more than 40 victims" that have fallen prey to the new ATM scam, police say. The scammers made off with nearly $9,000 of his money. "They pulled $1,700 out of my ATM. And believe it or not, $7,000 directly from the teller," said Mark, adding, "I felt extremely vulnerable. Boy if it could happen to me, it can happen to anybody."

As awful as Mark's story is, there are ways you can protect yourself from scammers, including:

  • Stay Vigilant: Be aware of your surroundings and stay alert at all times when using an ATM machine. Avoid distractions and maintain focus on your transaction. 

  • Shield Your PIN: When entering your PIN at an ATM, cover the keypad with your hand or body to prevent prying eyes or hidden cameras from capturing your PIN number. 

  • Use Secure ATMs: Stick to ATMs located in well-lit, populated areas. Preferably, choose ATMs that are inside banks or other secure establishments. If possible, avoid using ATMs late at night when thieves are more likely to be lurking in search of potential victims.

  • Inspect the ATM: Before using an ATM, examine it for any suspicious devices, such as card skimmers or hidden cameras. If something looks unusual or damaged, refrain from using it and report it to the police and to the bank's authorities. 

  • Beware of Strangers: Be cautious of individuals who try to engage you in conversation or offer unsolicited assistance while you're using the ATM. Scammers may attempt to create distractions or gain your trust before trying to steal from you. 

  • Trust Your Instincts: If something feels off or suspicious about an ATM or the people around it, trust your gut instinct and find an alternative location to perform your transaction.

  • Monitor Your Accounts Regularly: Keep a close eye on your bank statements and transaction history. Report any unauthorized or suspicious activity to your bank immediately. (Follow our guide to learn how to successfully dispute credit report errors.)

  • Enable Transaction Alerts: Set up text or email notifications with your bank to receive instant alerts about any transactions made using your card. This can help you quickly identify and respond to potential fraudulent activity.

  • Keep Your Card Secure: Never lend your card to anyone, and always keep it in a safe place. Avoid writing down your PIN number or sharing it with others.

  • Stay Woke: By staying updated on the latest scams and fraud techniques, you can better recognize and avoid potential threats before they occur. 

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The Bottom Line

Though pesky scammers will likely always exist, you can remain one step ahead of them by keeping these tips in mind. By implementing protective measures, you can enhance your defenses and minimize the risk of falling victim to scammers and their tactics. Remember: Always stay informed, alert, and be wary of your surroundings at all times — especially while using an ATM. 

If you, or someone you know, has fallen victim to a scam, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or reach out to the National Elder Fraud Hotline by calling: (1-833) 372–8311 to seek guidance and report any suspicious activity targeting seniors. 

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