It seems like there has been another recent spate of ATM card skimming in Bali. I say another, as sometime ago there were gangs operating in Bali, that installed skimming equipment on ATMs, mostly using tiny cameras to record your pin number. The banks were fairly quick to act, installing guards around the keypad, making it more difficult to see customers entering their pin number. There were some arrests made, but since some people have their accounts emptied in another country, these kinds of scams, point to well organized international gangs.
Fresh reports of people having their accounts emptied after using ATMs in Bali, are pointing to new methods to get pin numbers by the criminals. Since it is more difficult to capture the PIN number using miniature cameras, false keypads, placed over the ATM’s keypad, could be the method being used. Doing a search of Google images, you can see the types of devices that are available.
So how are people able to withdraw money from your account? First, they need your account information, which is stored on the magnetic strip of your card. They get this by placing a device over or inside the ATM slot to read information from your card. The devices placed over the slot typically don’t look out of place.
Then they need your PIN number, which they get from using a fake keyboard, or a camera which records you entering your PIN. Cards can then reproduced with your account number and together with your PIN, they can withdraw money from your account from anywhere in the world.
So how can you protect yourself from these ATM skimmers? If possible, I would suggest using ATMs attached directly to banks that have security guards, and try to use them during business hours. I would be very cautious of machines that are isolated from everything and don’t have a security guard. Be cautious of people hanging around the ATM.
Get to know what one bank’s ATM looks like, and avoid going to ATMs that you might not be familiar with. Try moving the slot where you put your card. If it is loose, it could be a problem. The same with the keypad. Check if the keypad looks thicker than normal. Cover the keypad with one hand as best as possible when entering your pin number, to avoid cameras.
Check your bank accounts regularly. If you notice anything suspicious, contact your bank immediately. Another way to protect yourself is to have one account which you keep a fairly small amount of money. Only use this account to withdraw money from ATMs. Then have another account where you keep the bulk of your savings, and transfer money from that account to your ‘ATM account’ but never make an ATM withdrawal from this account. A bit of inconvenience, but is an easy way to protect yourself.
Banks in general do replace the stolen money, but it can take several weeks, and it can be considerably time consuming making the necessary reports. Trust your instincts. If anything looks suspicious, move onto another ATM.
Please let me know if you have experienced any trouble with ATMs in Bali, or have tips to share.
Update: Some people have emailed me that this problem happens anywhere in the world, not just Bali. Of course, I never thought the problem is exclusive to Bali, but I just wanted to share that there seem to have been a large number of new reports of people having problems.
I tried to find some statistics of ATM fraud, by country and found this article in Forbes. The top countries are Mexico, US and India. Indonesia is way down the list.
Of course there could be a few explanations for this. Now I don’t have any proof of this, it is just a feeling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bali is targeted by criminals, because of the high number of tourists, many of whom have decent sized bank accounts.