You always keep your card details safe and make sure you stand in a way that prevents people behind you from seeing you enter your PIN number… so you’re protected from ATM fraud, right?

Not necessarily.

A gang of four Europeans in Dubai were arrested last month for stealing around AED 5m ($1.36m) from cash machines across the UAE. They inserted stickers inside the ATM card reader to copy cards and installed cameras to record the PIN numbers of card holders.

And in May, criminals hacked into the databases of banks in the UAE and Oman, and made up fake cards which they used to withdraw $45m in a couple of hours.

But the GCC is by no means the only region to be affected by the problem.

In October, criminals infected at least 50 ATMs in Russia and other Eastern European countries with a malware virus that allowed the attacker to instruct the cash machine to dispense money.

And in the same month, police in London arrested a suspect over alleged ATM malware attacks that led to the theft of $2.6m from more than 50 cash machines.

So how do you protect yourself?

  • Where possible, use ATMs within banks, as they are less likely to contain skimming devices.
  • Experts suggest you should try to avoid free-standing cash machines, as they can be an easier target for thieves.
  • Of course you should always make sure that the person behind you can’t see you enter your PIN. But it is not enough to stand in front of the machine. If you actually cover the number pad with your hand as you type, you will prevent a camera from recording it.
  • Needless to say, you should never use a cash machine that looks out of the ordinary or like it has been tampered with.
  • Always look around to see who is nearby. If someone is lurking and looks unscrupulous, use another cash machine.
  • Thankfully, many banks in the UAE send text messages to their customers to alert them when money leaves their account – use the SMS service. It is probably the easiest way to catch and protect yourself from ATM fraud.
  • Always keep your card details safe – and never, ever, keep a note of your PIN number in your wallet or purse.

Fraud protection

However, you could potentially follow all the right steps and still be a victim. Experts say the new skimming devices are becoming harder to detect, as with the recent case in Dubai, because they sit inside the card reader.

Downloading an app might help – a company in the Philippines has developed LockByMobile, which allows users to lock and unlock their cards through their smartphone, so theoretically you could only unlock it when you want to use it. The app is available on Apple and Google Play.

Unfortunately, if a PIN is used to obtain the money you are likely to be held liable. But some companies also offer ID fraud protection in the Emirates.

  • AIG in the UAE offers identity and credit card protection, which includes protection if you are robbed or assaulted within 30 minutes of withdrawing money from an ATM. The policy reimburses customers for money withdrawn from any ATM worldwide.
  • HSBC also offers mugging coverage as part of a protection scheme with an extended warranty policy that covers cash withdrawn from the customer’s bank account or credit card. The policy holder will be reimbursed if they are assaulted and/ or the cash was stolen within two to 48 hours after the withdrawal.

For their part, banks should replace older ATMs with more modern versions to make it harder to tamper with them, while stepping up security such as installing a camera to monitor any attempt to fit a skimming device.