Card and ATM scams

Scammers use a variety of ways to steal your money or buy things using your card or a copy of your card.

Card skimming

Skimming a debit or credit card is a scam where the data contained on the black magnetic strip on the back of your card is copied using a device called a skimmer. Scammers use this data to create counterfeit cards that they can use to withdraw money or make purchases either online or in a store. These transactions can happen abroad and in countries you may not usually travel to.

This scam happens when a skimming device is placed over or in an ATM card reader and a small hidden camera is used to see what PIN you enter. They can also capture your PIN by placing a fake keypad over the real one that can record the numbers you enter.

With this scam you may not realise anything has gone wrong until money starts disappearing from your account, so always keep an eye out for any transactions on your account that don’t look familiar.

top tip
Always cover the keypad when entering your PIN and be wary of anyone standing too close to you, or an ATM that looks like it could have been tampered with.
Card trapping

Card trapping is when a scammer places a device over or in the card reader of an ATM. After you have inserted your card and entered your PIN the device traps your card and doesn’t return it. Most people leave thinking it is a normal machine malfunction but once they are gone the scammer removes the device and takes your card.

This stolen card can be used to make cash withdrawals if they have also managed to get your PIN. If they just have the card they can use this to make large purchases online or carry out numerous contactless transactions that can quickly add up.

This video (from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland) shows genuine footage from a micro-camera installed by criminals on an ATM. It shows how easy it is to see the PIN pad, once a micro-camera is installed but also how simple it is to cover the PIN pad and conceal your PIN.

Contactless scam

A scam can be carried out using the contactless payment feature on your debit or credit card.

It involves scammers using a card-reading device and decoding software to steal the card number and expiry date from your debit or credit card and then using these details to pay for items online. With contactless technology they only need to have the device close to your card so it is possible for them to intercept your details while your cards are in your pocket or bag.

In general, to buy items online the three digit CVV security code on the back of the card is needed along with the cardholder’s name but this is not always the case and some items can be made bought without these.

 Ways to keep your card safe
  • When entering your PIN, either in-store or at an ATM, always cover the keypad. Never write your pin down and keep it with your card. Try not to use the same PIN for all your cards or to unlock your phone.
  • If you notice anything unusual about the ATM, such as the card reader sticking out further than normal, the keypad seeming loose or signs of tampering, do not use it. Find another ATM and report the suspicious one.
  • Try and use ATMs that are in busy, well-lit areas as those in more isolated locations can be easier to fit with skimming devices and observed by a scammer.
  • Make sure your cards, wallet, purse or bag are visible at all times and never let someone take your card away to process a payment. There are purses and wallets available that protect your cards from being read by the types of devices used by scammers.
  • Check your bank statements and online banking regularly to keep an eye on your card transactions. Make sure to check for large ATM withdrawals as well as smaller transactions that are under the €30 contactless limit. If you notice anything unusual contact your bank immediately to ask about it.
  • Keep the number of your bank and card providers in your phone so you can contact them immediately if you notice unusual activity on your account, a problem with one of their ATM’s or your card isn’t returned by a machine.
Who to contact

If you think you may have fallen victim to a scam or fraud and have given someone your bank or credit card details contact your bank or card provider immediately so they can advise you and if necessary put a hold on your account, cancel your cards or cheques or carry out additional security when issuing payments and transfers from your account. You should also contact your local Garda station.

You can contact us and tell us about any scams you, your family or friends have experienced as building awareness about scams is one of the best ways to prevent them. If you were scammed somewhere else in Europe contact the European Consumer Centre Ireland.


Last updated on 5 July 2019