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Thieves Can Test ATMs to Check if it’s Worth Fitting a Skimmer

Technology continues to make everything smaller, and it doesn't discriminate. So while our smartphones and laptops get ever thinner, so do the devices thieves use to try and steal our money. ATM skimmers are so small they slide inside the card reader, and now there's a new device allowing those same thieves to test an ATM before fitting it with a skimmer.

The problem for ATM thieves is the ATM manufacturers continue to upgrade their machines to counter the skimming devices. As KrebsonSecurity explains, ATMs increasingly use frequency jamming to stop the skimmers functioning correctly. However, there is a new handheld device called a "Smart Shield Detector that can test an ATM to see if it is using digital anti-skimming technology.

As the video below shows, holding the detector near the ATM card slot triggers a reading. If the reading is 15 or higher then anti-skimming tech is in use and it's not worth fitting a skimmer. Low readings on the other hand mean the skimmer will work without being jammed.

At $200, the detector certainly isn't cheap, but it could mean the difference between a skimmer going to waste and stealing hundreds of card details, which could be worth far more than the detector cost.


For ATM manufacturers this detector may end up being helpful. If all ATMs start returning a reading of 15 or higher, then skimmers won't be fitted. But as Charlie Harrow, solutions manager for ATM maker NCR Corp., pointed out to Krebs, anti-skimming tech isn't usually hidden. Manufacturers want the skimming thieves to know a machine is well-protected and not worth their time. That way, they leave it alone.

The battle of skimming and anti-skimming tech will continue indefinitely. As quickly as this detector becomes useful it will be rendered useless as skimmers improve and figure out a way to overcome the frequency jamming. For consumers, there is no way to know if an ATM is safe or not, but you can make it much safer simply by covering your hand as you enter your PIN.

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