Ask The Experts: How Do I Spot a Fake ATM?

I’ve never trusted those sidewalk ATMs. Twice now in about 5 years I’ve taken out an amount of money from them (only because it was an emergency and no bank was nearby) and both times (!!!) more than the amount I took out was deducted from my bank account!! Luckily in both cases I explained the issue to the bank and they refunded me the money but I shouldn’t even have to do that. What can we do about these ATMs stealing our money???Monica, MO

Monica: While there are no guarantees with these sidewalk ATMs, I can give you a few tips to help reduce your risks.

-Be sure to pay attention to the small print on the ATM. Companies are supposed to notify you about usage fees before you make a withdrawal but in some cases make it difficult to see. If it never tells you on the screen and can’t read anywhere on the machine, be sure you check your statement as this is a big red flag.

-Before placing your card into an ATM, try to wiggle the area where you insert your card. In some cases thieves will actually stick a small device over the card reader allowing them to copy the data off your care. If that area wiggles or even comes off, you know you have a problem and walk away.

-If the ATM is not attached to a building and is outside of a building, attempt to push the ATM. Any real ATM will be bolted to the ground. If you can move it, it’s not real.

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-In the event you insert your card and enter you PIN but the ATM fails to dispense cash, you should contact your financial institution. Most ATM’s that are out of service will notify you before you enter your code that there is an error with the system. On the other hand, fake ATM’s have no intention of paying out any cash and want you to submit that information.

-If you have the choice, use ATM’s located at banks and credit unions. In most cases their services fees are less and you are generally assured you are working with a reputable organization.

Jim Stickley is an On The Money contributor, CTO at TraceSecurity Inc and author of


The Truth About Identity Theft. A renowned security expert, he has been involved in thousands of security services for corporations worldwide. You can contact Jim at