How To Secure Your ATM Cards and Transactions

How To Secure Your ATM Cards and Transactions

Cards have become commonplace. Credit cards, Debit cards, E-Wallets, you name it.

With advances in the modern business resulting from increased use of technology, banks and financial institutions have had to open up multiple delivery channels for their customers. One of such delivery channels is the Automated Teller Machine (ATM).

Basically, an ATM or a Cash machine is a computerized telecommunications device that enables a bank client to perform transactions without the need for a cashier, clerk or teller. The simple process is as follows: Once you have your active card, you insert it in the ATM, key in your Personal Identification Number (PIN) and if your bank is on that network, you can process your transaction.

The process I have described above is very simple. But in that simplicity is a huge risk. If the security of your debit card is compromised, your money may just grow wings. If your account is funded, that is.

Without sounding alarmist, I need you to know that thieves find a debit (ATM) card more attractive than a credit card. That’s because your debit card is cash. So, here are some tips to help you secure you ATM cards . . . and your money.

Sign Your Card
Your ATM card has a provision for “authorised signatory” at the back of the card. That space is for your signature. Sign it as soon as you receive the card. The reason is that in case your card is “trapped” by a machine, your signature identifies you as the owner when it is recovered by your bank. I’m sure you are wondering whether signing that portion will not expose your signature to forgery. It will take someone very close to you to do that. For one, your account number is not on the card. Besides, most identification cards like driver’s licence and passport have your signature.

Memorise Your CVV
Note your CVV number and memorise it. CVV stands for Card Verification Value. It is usually a 3-digit number at the back of your ATM card. It is also known as Card Security Code (CSC). It’s very useful when you are carrying out an online transaction with your card. It simply lets the online merchant know that you actually have the physical card with you as at the time of the transaction as thus helps reduce fraud on your account. Experts recommend that you memorise it and then blacken it so as not to be easily visible to onlookers. Please note that the CVV is not your PIN!

Select You PIN Carefully
Your PIN (Personal Identification Number) is a secret password between you and the system (through the ATM) that enables you authorise transactions on the machine. It is more like your electronic signature. So, the PIN is critical and must be chosen carefully.

This link (–184658424.html) lets you know the 10 most easily guessed PINs. I know that many people use their anniversaries, spouses; birthdays or children’s birthday. This is too cheap and risky. Any who steals your ATM card can guess your PIN without stress if he knows you well. The same goes for your phone number or home address.

So, what’s the best way to choose your PIN? WTOP notes that the best PIN numbers are those “with no special significance.” According to, “one technique that works for PINs is to divide them into two groups of two digits and treat each as a year – so that, say 8367 becomes 1983 and 1967 – and then find some event that corresponds to each year. Each event should be something personal, known only to you, or something historical but relatively obscure. From these, devise an amusing and odd phrase linking the two events, from which the events themselves, and thus the dates, cannot be easily deduced. Note this phrase down rather than the PIN itself”.

Phew! That seems like writing a computer program. The way out? I’ll rather just choose a set of digits without sequence and commit them to memory. Just make sure you can remember the PIN.

Don’t Disclose or Share Your PIN
Some people have such very busy (or lazy) schedules that they sometimes find themselves sending someone to the ATM with their card and PIN! This is very unsafe. It doesn’t matter if the person is a trusted friend, a family member or even a bank staff. Circumstances change and people change. Someone you trust might find himself in a compromising position with a third party and reveal your PIN under harassment or seduction.

I am sure some of you have at some point received unsolicited mails asking you to follow some link to your account and perform an update. Many of such e-mails are usually disguised as customer-service messages from you bank to trick you into giving up personal financial information. In online security terminology, that’s called phising. In a typical phishing scam e-mail, the mail will ask you to type your account number and PIN into an official-looking website. Never respond to such mails. Once you do, fraudsters can embed your account details in a phony debit card and fleece you of your money.

Never Write Down Your PIN!
You should never write down your PIN anywhere. Not on the card, not on a piece of paper in your wallet, not in your diary. Just imagine that you lost your wallet containing your ATM card and your PIN written on a piece of paper in the wallet also. That’s kasala. Your PIN is meant to be in your memory.

Change Your PIN From Time To Time
Most debit cards issued in Nigeria have a life of two years. In many cases, users never get to change their PINs except for that first time immediately after issuance. This is not good enough. You are advised to change your PIN from time-to-time especially if you suspect that someone has come to know your PIN. That’s being proactive.

Vary Your PIN If You Use Multiple Cards
Some of us have several cards often from different banks. In a country where the telecommunications infrastructure is usually “down”, nobody wants to be left stranded. This explains why people hold different cards. If you do hold more than one card, experts advise that you should not use the same PIN for all your cards. The reason is that if a fraudster has your cards, he should not have easy access to all your accounts.

Use A Regular ATM
For security reasons, you are advised to use ATMs in surroundings you are familiar with. Always scan the environment before you approach the ATM. Be cautious – watch for suspicious people loitering nearby. These few tips will help while at an ATM:

– Make sure that the ATM is one that’s frequently used.
– If it’s your turn at the ATM and someone is too close to you, insist that the person gives you some distance.
– Examine the machine for “card skimmers”. In “skimming” schemes, criminals place scanners over ATM card slots to lift account information from debit cards. They also use hidden cameras or old-fashioned shoulder surfing to get PINs. If it looks like someone has tampered with the equipment, don’t use it.
– Protect your PIN from the view of others, either at an ATM or at a store.
– NEVER count your cash at the ATM! Even if a machine underpays you, it cannot reimburse you. If you must, count your cash in a safe place away from the machine.
– Remember to take your card out of the machine!
– Put your money and your card away before you leave the ATM.
– Shred (not squeeze), and destroy, your ATM receipt before you throw it away.

When Shopping
When shopping, or paying for services with your ATM card at a POS terminal, be sure you get your card back after every payment. Always collect your purchase receipt and examine it to make sure that the receipts are for the correct purchase amount.

Report a Lost or Stolen Card Immediately!
If you ever lose of misplace your card, report your bank immediately and report. It is therefore very important that you know the customer care line of your bank. Who knows, you may need to call them on a weekend. Inform them immediately if you think that there is anything that may compromise your PIN, such as an easy PIN, other ID in your wallet making it easy to work out or, horror of all horrors, the PIN being written down somewhere in the wallet or on the card. Get the bank to de-activate/cancel the card immediately ( ). You should follow this up with an e-mail or a visit to the bank the next working day.

Keep Your Cards Away From Magnets
Your information is stored on the ATM card using a magnetic strip. Sustained exposure to strong magnetic fields could demagnetize the card. You are therefore advised to keep your cards away from strong magnetic fields.

Review Your Account Statement Regularly
It is in your best interest to call for and review your bank statement regularly. Even if you are not a finance guru, you should be able to spot a transaction that was not done by you. If you need help, talk to an accountant.

Enjoy your (secured) money!

You can follow the author on twitter @ehissman

Further readings:

Tags: ATM, Debit Cards, Money, Security, Personal Finance


3 thoughts on “How To Secure Your ATM Cards and Transactions

  1. Pingback: The 10 most easily stolen ATM card PINs | dp@large

  2. Pingback: Don’t Forget Your ATM Cards, Please | Lionelsewhere

  3. Pingback: A Financial Tech Support Helps Money Go Round | Customer Support Philippines Blog

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