The Irish papers have been reporting about a scam which was perpetrated on a fair number of unsuspecting bank customers in the south of Ireland. The scam itself is well known and banks have been telling us about it for years. We get constant warnings to be real cagey when we go to withdraw our cash from a cash dispensing machine. These machines, it seems, can be too easily tampered with.


Everyone knows about it and still unsuspecting individuals continue to be caught. You don’t need me to tell how this thing works. You’ve heard it often enough, the way an ATM can be tampered with. The criminals need two things. They need the information that’s electronically coded into the magnetic strip on your card. They’ve come up with a way to grab that information, simply inserting a device which copies your code. You don’t know it’s there. It’s hidden so you can’t see it. You don’t know you’re about to be ripped off.
Once the crooks have this information they create a new card which is in effect a clone of the card you hold.


The second thing the scammers want to get their hands on is your PIN, your 4-digit password. To get this number they put a tiny camera somewhere above the machine to record your fingers tapping out the digits.
These scoundrels now have your valuable information but they are too smart to use it themselves. They capitalise on their ill-gotten information by selling it on to others who will make use of it, the ones who manufacture the new debit or credit cards.
In the recent Irish case the counterfeit cards were used in New York to clean out the accounts of their victims in Ireland.


Of course the lessons are glaringly obvious and we’ve been warned often enough. For example, use one hand to cover the other while keying in your PIN. Memorise your pin, never write it down.
Here’s a nasty little game I enjoy playing while standing in line at the checkout. I peer over the shoulder of the customer ahead of me in the queue and read their PIN as they key it in. It’s amazing just how often you learn the birthdate of that little old lady. Born in 1937? That makes her, let’s see….
What a smartass, you’re thinking. Well maybe. But not all that smart as you’re about to find out. For I myself have been caught out. Yes! Not for a vast sum thankfully but an unsettling experience nonetheless.


I’m not going to name the country except to say that the people there are very poor and that US currency is widely used.
Here’s how it happened. I realised I would not have enough cash to pay the taxi driver. No problem, he said. I’ll bring you to a cash machine and you can get whatever money you need. He led me to an ATM booth which stood apart on the pavement, not attached to any building. Two men were lounging outside with a customer inside. I asked the taxi driver if the men outside were waiting in line. They assured him they were not whereupon he walked back to his taxi to wait for me.


When the customer came out I assumed I was next but one of the two loungers pushed ahead of me, so I had to wait my turn. It struck me then that this man was spending an inordinate amount of time at the machine. Yet my suspicions were in no way aroused and when at last he came out I went in. I decided two hundred dollars would be enough for my needs for the time being. I keyed in that amount and within seconds the screen instructed me to please take my card, which I duly did. The screen now asked me to take my cash. But when I went to do so I found the cash dispensing tray locked. I fiddled with it thinking there must be some way to get it open and remove the cash which I had heard sliding into the tray.
Puzzled by the way things were going I called in the remaining lounger to ask his help. He took one look at the locked tray, shrugged his shoulders and said, there’s nothing you can do now except inform your bank. That was it. I walked away without my cash and later found that two hundred dollars had been debited from my account. The taxi driver drove me to another ATM which was part of a bank building and this time everything worked as it should.


As I say, the loss of two hundred dollars is not the end of the world. Things could have been worse. I could have been mugged for example. All I’m really saying I suppose is that you can’t be too careful nowadays. You can never allow yourself to drop your guard especially in unfamiliar surroundings.
But then, how often have we all been told the same thing?


  1. Thanks P.J. There are many ways of robbing a person – that is the latest. I was in a local super-market left my bag on the floor while I was trying to lift something heavy. a ‘kind’ gentleman helped me. He had a young boy with him. When I lifted my bag – a wallet containing £60 was missing. Luckily I had my ‘main’ money in my inside coat pocket. The man and boy disappeared. There was not any CCTV in the shop. As you said P.J. it could have been worse.
    I had been keeping the sterling separate.

  2. I can sympathise fully with how you must have felt, Ena. I agree. It’s not so much the amount taken as the feeling of violation that comes with it. Plus the awful sense of let-down in your own innate trusting of other people. It must have taken a while to get over the shock. PJ.

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