ATMs offer convenience, speed, and user-friendliness. By adhering to a few simple steps, you can fully enjoy their benefits while ensuring your safety.

In today's world, ATMs (automated teller machines) have become an integral part of our lives, enabling swift and hassle-free cash withdrawals and deposits. Whether they are conveniently located as drive-thru or walk-up units, it's important to acknowledge that their involvement with cash makes them susceptible to theft and suspicious behavior. To ensure the safety of both you and your account, it is crucial to bear in mind these eight essential steps.

1. Secure Your Card

ATMs accept four different types of cards for various transactions: an ATM-only card for withdrawals from your account, a debit card for withdrawals from your account, a credit card for borrowing against your credit line, or a prepaid card for withdrawals from its balance. Regardless of the card type, all transactions at ATMs require a PIN (personal identification number). A PIN serves as a vital 4-digit security measure that effectively safeguards against fraudulent charges.

When setting up your PIN, it is important to avoid using numbers that can be easily guessed such as your birthday, card number, or address. It is crucial never to write down your PIN or share it with anyone. Remember, no legitimate individual or organization, including merchants, financial institutions, or law enforcement, should ever ask you for your PIN.

If your financial institution offers card management tools, such as the ability to lock and unlock your card through a mobile app, it is highly recommended to take full advantage of these features. By proactively locking your card when it is not in use, you effectively prevent any unauthorized transactions from occurring, thereby adding an extra layer of protection in the event of card compromise.

2. Prepare in Advance

Efficient preparation plays a crucial role in reducing the time spent at the ATM and maintaining your focus on the transaction and your surroundings. Prior to heading to the ATM, ensure that you have everything you need for the transaction ready, such as endorsing a check or organizing cash for deposit. Consolidate your cash, checks, and card into a discreet yet easily accessible location, such as an envelope or a secure pocket in your bag. This way, you can avoid the hassle of searching for items when you reach the ATM. Additionally, it is wise to refrain from wearing or carrying expensive items, such as jewelry, during your ATM visit.

3. Find the Best Location 

To minimize the risk of theft, choose ATMs located in well-lit and busy areas equipped with camera surveillance. ATMs situated within financial institutions, inside hotels, and within grocery stores are typically considered safer options. It is recommended to steer clear of ATMs positioned out of view from the road, such as those hidden behind buildings, as well as ATMs surrounded by decorative shrubbery, columns, or structures that could potentially serve as hiding spots for individuals with malicious intent.

4. Plan for a Quick Getaway

When using a drive-up ATM, make sure there is ample space between vehicles so you can drive away if necessary. Remain inside your vehicle with the doors locked, windows up, and the engine running. Once it's your turn at the ATM, position your car as close to the machine as possible, creating a barrier that makes it challenging for anyone to approach between your vehicle and the ATM. In the event that someone approaches you or seeks assistance, do not unlock your door or open your window. Instead, politely decline and remain in your vehicle. If you experience any discomfort or unease, promptly drive away from the ATM location.  Always trust your gut.

5. Check for ATM Tampering

Card skimmers are electronic devices designed to illicitly capture card information, including your card number and PIN, enabling criminals to create counterfeit cards or engage in fraudulent activities. Identifying skimmers can be challenging, so pay attention to the following warning signs when approaching an ATM:

  • Scratches or scrapes around the screen, keypad, or card reader
  • Presence of glue, tape, or sticky residue on the screen, keypad, or card reader
  • Loose, crooked, or dangling components on the ATM
  • Unusual bulkiness observed on the card reader or keypad
  • Missing or partially covered buttons, words, or graphics
  • Resistance when pressing buttons or inserting your card

Additionally, consider using smartphone applications that can scan for Bluetooth signals near the ATM, as these can help detect nearby skimmers. Be vigilant for pinhole cameras that may be affixed to the ATM or placed discreetly in small holes nearby, such as within a drilled brick pillar. These cameras are intended to capture your PIN or other sensitive details. If you have any doubts or suspicions, trust your instincts, report the situation to the entity responsible for managing the ATM, and opt for a different machine to conduct your transaction.

6. Secure Your Transaction

Maintain a safe distance from others while conducting transactions at the ATM to ensure your transaction details remain confidential. If someone is standing too close, politely request them to step back, and if they refuse, it is best to leave and find another ATM. When using walk-up ATMs, use your body and hand to shield the keypad from prying eyes as you enter your PIN and perform your deposit or withdrawal.

Under no circumstances should you accept assistance from anyone, even if you encounter difficulties with the ATM. Instead, leave the area and seek an alternative ATM. If you suspect that your transaction details may have been compromised after completing your transaction, immediately lock your card and contact your financial institution without delay. Swift action is essential in such situations to mitigate potential risks.

7. Use Extra Caution with Withdrawals

When withdrawing cash, exercise heightened caution and remain vigilant of your surroundings. If anything seems unusual or suspicious, trust your instincts and leave the area. Once you have the cash in hand, promptly secure it in a safe and discreet location. Avoid counting the money immediately, even if you are inside a vehicle; instead, wait until you have reached a different location. Always remember to take your receipt with you or opt for email receipts. Comparing these receipts with your account statements enables you to promptly detect any fraudulent activity, making it easier to address and resolve potential issues.

8. Leave Quickly

After using the ATM, make sure to quickly roll up your car windows and lock the doors. Try your best to avoid driving by any suspicious-looking vehicles or people. If you're on foot, walk with confidence and keep an eye on your surroundings. Don't stroll past any suspicious individuals or cars.

If you ever feel unsafe at the ATM, head straight into a nearby reputable business or call someone you trust for help. People are less likely to bother you if they know someone else is aware of your whereabouts and can hear what's going on. If you notice someone following you from the ATM, head to a well-lit area with lots of people around and call the police right away.


ATMs are designed with safety and security in mind, and staying vigilant throughout your transaction can help you spot suspicious behavior. If something doesn't seem right, it's better to find another ATM or return at a later time. Don't hesitate to report any illegal behavior to the authorities, as they are there to help.

If your card is lost, stolen, or you suspect it may have been compromised, report it immediately to your financial institution. If you find yourself facing a confrontation while at an ATM, remember that your safety is paramount. Nothing is worth more than your life, so it's best to cooperate and then seek help from the authorities as soon as possible.


More Money, More Problems

Because ATMs may attract seedy characters, plan to make large transactions in a secure financial institution instead of an unsupervised ATM.