Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
The airport ATM in Recife, Brazil, looked like any other, so I withdrew $400 and left for a remote island to dive with turtles. Two days later, my bank e-mailed me. Had I really just withdrawn $1,700 from two ATMs hundreds of miles away? No, I had not. I’d become the latest victim of skimming, a growing multimillion-dollar crime; one ring in New York City stole $1.5 million in 2012.
It works like this: Thieves install a duplicate reader in an ATM’s card slot that sucks the information off the card’s magnetic stripe. Then they get the pin from a hidden camera and program a new card. The practice is on the rise, and not just abroad: 3-D printing technology makes it easier to mount bogus faceplates on gas pumps and ATMs stateside, too.
There’s no foolproof way to safeguard your hard-earned dollars. The best approach, says special agent John Mazza of the U.S. Secret Service, which protects the country’s financial system as well as the president, is vigilance. His advice:
How to Safeguard Your Money
- Avoid ATMs in touristy areas.
- Cover the keypad with your hand in case there’s a camera.
- Give the card slot a good wiggle. Anything loose? Go somewhere else.
- If it looks like someone peeled a piece of tamperproof tape off the gas-station card reader, that could be a sign that a fake one was installed. Use a different pump.
In Brazil, I got lucky. The bank canceled my card and issued me a temporary credit within days to replace the stolen funds, though I had no way of accessing them from a remote South American island. Next time I travel, I’ll bring some cash.