A report issued by the FTC finds that customers in the process of withdrawing cash from ATMs are more likely to be victims of ATM fraud than a direct, physical crime, and skimmer devices have recently been found on gas pumps and ATMs throughout Northern California.

ATM skimming occurs when a device is placed on the face of an ATM, often over the slot where the card is inserted. The skimmer, which may use Bluetooth or cellular technology to transmit the data to criminals wirelessly, appears to be a part of the machine. It’s almost impossible for ATM users to know the difference unless they have an eye for security, or the skimmer is of poor quality. Often, the thieves will hide a small pinhole camera in a brochure holder, light bar, mirror, or speaker on the face of the ATM, which is used to capture the victim’s PIN. Gas pumps are equally vulnerable to this type of scam.

Always shield the ATM keypad with your hand while entering your PIN. Be vigilant while using an ATM. Look around and beware of anyone lurking – they could be waiting to pounce, or shoulder surfing, trying to see your PIN. And if you ever sense that something is off about an ATM or gas pump, just leave.

Choose a PIN that’s not easily guessed but can be entered quickly. Using consecutive numbers or repeating the same numbers is never a good idea. Many new ATMs won’t allow you to choose a “soft” PIN anyway.

Don’t ever let anyone assist you at an ATM. It’s hard to envision what kind of scenario might require another person to intervene at an ATM. But consider this possibility: your card gets stuck and a stranger graciously peeks his head over your shoulder to help. He frees your card and helps you finish the transaction. In the process, he got your PIN and swapped your card with another.

Beware of ATM skimming and learn to recognize a skimmer. Here is an example of a particularly well-made skimming device, which would be easy to miss. Not all are as well crafted, but some are very good.

Robert Siciliano, personal security expert contributor to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses dummy ATM scams on NBC Boston. (Disclosures)

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