Preventing ATM fraud | Daily News

Preventing ATM fraud

The Automated Teller Machine (ATM) has revolutionized the banking and finance sector. Just a couple of decades back, you had to visit the bank in person to withdraw or deposit money. This was fine from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays during bank opening hours, but any time beyond that on the weekends, you had no access to your own money.

The ATM changed all this – for the better. Now there is no need to fill a form and wait in the queue to withdraw a reasonable sum (usually up to Rs.100,000) – all you need is your bank card and an ATM. Moreover, there is no longer any need to go to one’s own branch to deposit or withdraw money – there are thousands of ATMs islandwide for you to choose from. In fact, there is no need to take bundles of cash when you go abroad either – your bank card can be activated on those machines as well.

With the proliferation of ATMs, virtually all commercial banks operating in Sri Lanka are now virtually open 24/7. Apart from depositing or withdrawing money to one’s or others’ accounts, one can access other services on ATMs including mobile top ups, utility bill payments and credit card payments. The latest digital kiosks can even process loan applications.

But the vast ATM network (most banks are now linked through the Lanka Pay network) depends on a huge computing power. And computers can be hacked. This is the loophole used by ATM fraudsters to access and clone ATM card information, which they then use to withdraw money to their heart’s content. There have been many recent cases of ATM fraud and theft in Sri Lanka. It is, in fact, a global problem that costs billions of dollars to the banking industry.

It is in this backdrop that the Police media spokesperson SP Ruwan Gunasekara had told the media, that the Police Department has launched a special investigation about persons who loiter near ATM machines. The Police media spokesperson had urged the public, to inform the Police if they have any information about suspicious persons loitering around ATM machines without any proper reason.

He also stated that the public should be aware of such suspicious individuals and inform about such persons or their activities to the nearest police station. This decision has been taken by the Police after probing the large number of financial frauds which happened in the past few months via ATM machines. According to Gunasekara, the Criminal Investigations Department too has launched a special investigation related to the same incidents.

It has been revealed that some of the suspects who are engaged in ATM scams and frauds had done it in a very subtle manner, without being captured on the CCTV cameras which have been installed in the ATM machine cubicles or being noticed by the security guards. However, some standalone machines have no security guards, which makes it easier for ATM fraudsters to operate at any time. Earlier, it was reported that even foreign ATM scammers were operating in Sri Lanka.

While the Police will no doubt do its utmost to uncover these individuals, ATM users must also remember a few Do’s and Don’ts. One rule is that you should never write the PIN number on the back of the ATM card itself – either commit it to memory or write it down elsewhere. Always cover the PIN keypad with your other hand if possible if there are people around. Do not give your PIN number to anyone, including bank employees. Do not get a printout of the transaction unless it is absolutely essential – instead set up a mobile phone alert through the bank.

And if you do get a print out, do not leave it in the machine or throw it away in the ATM bin – keep it with you and shred it later at a different place. And do keep a tab on your ATM transactions – check periodically with the bank for any unusual patterns you cannot really recall. No electronic system is completely tamper-proof, but a few precautions will make sure that you will be protected at least up to some extent. In the meantime, the banks will hopefully continue to secure their servers and computers to limit hacking and skimming.

However, it would be ill-advised to limit ATM usage due to the occurrence of frauds per se. Some experts already predict that banks staffed by humans will be a thing of the past in as little as 10 years. Indeed, even now it is possible to perform an entire gamut of banking transactions at ATM kiosks of any given bank. But the jury is still out on whether this is a good thing from the customer’s point of view, even though the banks will be able to cut staff, overheads and salaries.

In fact, one does not even have to go to an ATM – banking apps on your smartphone can already perform many transactions. But it will truly be a tragedy if banking loses the human touch.


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