Shield Is Designed to Thwart ATM Fraud

ByABC News
September 28, 2005, 1:19 PM

Oct. 6, 2005 — -- Security may be skin deep -- at least when it comes to preventing data thieves from spying on you the next time you use an ATM.

Researchers in England have developed a thick plastic "skin" that would literally cover the familiar automated teller machines and act as a shield against unauthorized tampering.

"This top skin is clear polycarbonate and therefore any cameras or 'skimmers' will be glaringly obvious as they will be sat on top of a clear cover," Mark Rushton, one of the two design engineers with the University of Warwick in Coventry, told ABC News in an e-mail interview. "This way it will be easy for people to see anything stuck onto a cash machine that should not be there."

Over the past few years, high-tech thieves have been stealing personal bank account information from ATM users by "skimming" the data on your ATM card and your secret PIN number.

Essentially, the data thieves attach an electronic reader that captures the data from the magnetic stripe on the back of a bank card as it enters the machine's actual card reader. A pinhole camera or other spy device captures a user's PIN code. Armed with both pieces of information, skimmers can create phony cards that enable them to drain unsuspecting customers' bank accounts.

ATM manufacturers and financial institutions have taken various steps -- from adding advanced counter-surveillance technology to increasing customer awareness -- to stem skimming.

The plastic protector could be added onto any of the more than 400,000 ATMs scattered throughout the United States, or designed as part of new machines being installed at a bank or other site. And since it's made of simple, moldable plastic, both engineers suspect their proposed shield would cost between $400 to $600 -- a far cry from the more than $2,000 every ATM in England loses on average due to fraud each year, according to industry estimates.