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How to protect yourself from ATM crime

Mike Elgan | March 27, 2017
Banks like Wells Fargo are rolling out much better ATM security. Here's why it won't stop ATM theft.

In other words...

2. People are lazy about security

Banks have to give customers what they want. That leaves security ultimately in the hands of consumers, who generally don't care or know about security (until they become victims of theft or fraud).

For example, if Wells Fargo customers wanted to maximize ATM security after Monday, they would put their ATM card in a safe place and never carry it. They would change their Wells Fargo app password to a very strong password using a good password manager, then never use it, opting instead for fingerprint access to the app. Then, at the ATM, they'd use the new eight-digit code option.

But I'd bet that most customers will keep carrying their ATM cards, keep their unsecure app passwords, and even keep using the card at the ATM out of habit.

Users are almost always the weakest link in any security chain.

3. Cash is still king

Bank websites and mobile apps support nearly every banking function, including check deposits (via smartphone pictures of checks).

The only reason to visit an ATM at all is to withdraw or deposit cash.

Cash is ideal for privacy, because transactions leave no digital record. But it's lousy for security because it can be stolen -- and also because it inspires people to use ATMs.

The good news

The bad news is that ATM crime will continue unabated, with criminals updating their methods as new technologies arise.

The good news is that you can protect yourself. Avoid using cash and ATMs. Update your password to a very secure one. Use fingerprint access to your banking app. Take advantage of your bank's latest ATM security. Never carry or use your ATM card (unless you need it as a debit card). And always check your transactions on your bank's app or website -- and ask the bank about anything suspicious.

If all of that fails, you should also know about the existence of a law called the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, which requires banks to reimburse you for any losses resulting from this kind of ATM crime. You have to report the theft within 60 days, or the law doesn't apply.

Thanks to new technology, anyone can do banking securely.

They won't. But they can.

And so can you.


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