Can your money be stolen with ATM card?

Having your hard-earned money stolen from your bank account can be a nightmare scenario. With the proliferation of ATM cards, debit cards, and other electronic payment methods, many people worry about the security of their funds. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself against ATM card fraud and theft.

How does ATM card theft happen?

There are a few primary ways that criminals steal money through ATM cards:

  • Skimming – This involves installing a device on the ATM card slot that copies the card information when you insert your card. A tiny camera may also be installed to capture your PIN. The thief then creates a fake card using the copied data.
  • Card trapping – A device is installed in the ATM that traps your card after you insert it. The thief then retrieves your trapped card and uses it.
  • Shoulder surfing – The thief lurks nearby and spies over your shoulder as you enter your PIN at the ATM. They may later steal your card or use the PIN to make unauthorized withdrawals.
  • Online theft – Malware or hacking may allow cybercriminals to intercept your debit/credit card number, expiration date, and CVV code for online purchases.

Once the thief has your card information and PIN, they can use it to withdraw cash from your account at ATMs or make purchases at retailers that accept ATM cards. This is why protecting your card details and PIN is critical.

Can a thief completely drain your account?

In most cases, the thief cannot completely drain your entire account in one ATM session. Banks generally have daily ATM withdrawal limits in place to prevent this.

Here are some typical ATM daily withdrawal limits:

  • Debit card – $300-$500
  • Credit card – $500-$1000

So in one day, a criminal is limited in how much they can siphon. However, they may make repeated withdrawals over multiple days and drain your funds over an extended period.

What if you have overdraft protection?

Some accounts have overdraft protection, which links to a backup fund source like a savings account or credit card. This allows transactions to go through even if the account lacks sufficient funds.

In this case, a thief with your ATM card details could potentially drain your entire checking account, continue making withdrawals thanks to overdraft protection, and run up charges on your linked credit card.

To limit risks, you may want to remove overdraft protection if it’s not absolutely necessary.

Ways to prevent ATM card theft

Here are some key tips to help prevent thieves from stealing your money through your ATM card:

  • Only use ATMs at reputable locations – Avoid stand-alone, isolated ATMs which are more prone to tampering. Use ATMs at secure locations like banks when possible.
  • Check for skimmers before using an ATM – Jiggle the card reader and look for anything loose or protruding. A skimmer may be installed over the real slot.
  • Cover the PIN pad – Use your hand or wallet to block a pinhole camera from viewing your PIN entries.
  • Monitor your bank accounts frequently – Review transactions often so you quickly notice any unauthorized withdrawals.
  • Set up account alerts – Many banks let you configure alerts for specific transaction types, suspicious activity, low balances, and more.
  • Avoid writing your PIN on your card – Having the PIN handy makes theft simpler if your card is lost or stolen.

Following these tips diligently makes it much harder for thieves to access your funds through your ATM card. You’ll also want to contact your bank right away if your card is lost or you notice any suspicious account activity.

What to do if you are a victim of ATM card theft

If you discover unauthorized ATM withdrawals or other fraudulent activity on your bank account, take these steps right away:

  1. Notify your bank – Alert them to disputed transactions so they can begin investigating.
  2. Change your PIN – Update your PIN to a new, secure number to prevent further misuse.
  3. Cancel your card – Request a replacement debit/credit card with a new card number.
  4. Review transactions – Identify all unauthorized debits for your bank dispute.
  5. File a police report – This creates an official record of the crime.
  6. Update automatic payments – If your card number changes, update any recurring payments tied to your old card.

Your bank will assist with resolving the disputed charges and may refund your money, although the process can take some time. Be persistent in following up until the issue is resolved satisfactorily.

How banks determine refunds for fraudulent charges

When you report unauthorized charges due to ATM card theft, the bank investigates according to industry regulations. Here’s how they determine refunds:

Time Period Liability for Unauthorized Charges
Within 2 business days of theft $0 liability
2+ days after and up to 60 days after statement Up to $50 liability
60+ days after statement Full liability for all unauthorized charges

As shown, reporting ATM card theft immediately gives you the strongest fraud protections. But even if time has passed, be sure to contact your bank about unauthorized transactions as soon as you notice them.

Can banks ever refuse to refund fraudulent charges?

In some cases, yes. If the bank determines you were grossly negligent or fraudulent in handling your account, they may deny refunds. Examples include:

  • Writing your PIN on your ATM card
  • Voluntarily sharing your card PIN or online banking passwords
  • Failing to notify the bank of known unauthorized charges for an extended time

Banks may also refuse refunds if they conclude your allegations are false and no theft occurred. Always be truthful when disputing fraudulent charges.

How to enhance ATM security beyond your card

In addition to safeguarding your ATM card itself, you can take further steps to enhance security:

Use a bank ATM, not a third-party one

Third-party, stand-alone ATMs often have lower security standards. It’s safer to use an ATM at an actual bank branch location.

Set ATM withdrawal limits

Many banks allow you to configure lower daily ATM withdrawal limits than their default. Opt for a lower max limit to minimize potential losses from theft.

Avoid ATM deposits if possible

Make deposits inside the bank branch or via night deposit box. ATM deposits can be more vulnerable to theft techniques like card trapping.

Sign up for text/email alerts

Get notifications for all ATM and debit card transactions so you can catch unauthorized activity faster.

Consider using a prepaid debit card

Load a prepaid card just with the cash you need for a certain time period. It offers more containment of losses if your card details are compromised.

Is a credit card safer than a debit card?

In some ways, yes. If an ATM card linked to your checking account is stolen, thieves have direct access to your funds. With a credit card, you aren’t out any cash until you pay your statement.

However, a stolen credit card can still rack up fraudulent purchases that must be dealt with. And some thieves target credit cards specifically for higher spending limits.

Both card types are vulnerable and need proper security precautions.

Key differences in credit card vs. debit card fraud protection

Protection Credit Card Debit Card
Lost/stolen protection $0 liability after report $0 if reported within 2 days
Fraudulent purchase protection $0 liability $0 if reported within 60 days of statement
Time without card use before cancellation Typically no cancellation Cancellation after 12-24 months inactive

In general, credit cards offer stronger fraud protections than debit cards. But both card types still require diligence and quick reporting of any unauthorized transactions.

Can a bank trace ATM withdrawals and catch thieves?

Yes, banks have ways to trace where stolen ATM cards were used to make withdrawals. When you report ATM card theft, the bank will investigate using tools like:

  • ATM transaction records – Shows date, time, location, and amount of all ATM withdrawals.
  • ATM camera footage – Video monitoring at ATMs provides images of the thief.
  • Debit/credit card records – Details every transaction if the card is used for purchases.
  • Forensic analysis – Advanced techniques can trace card data, PIN usage, and more.

With this evidence, law enforcement may be able to identify and apprehend the criminal responsible for the ATM card theft. However, outcomes vary widely for each case.

ATM card theft statistics

  • Around 70% of ATM card fraud cases are solved each year
  • Over 75% of total losses are eventually recovered across solved cases
  • The average loss amount per ATM card fraud victim is $1,038
  • It takes an average of 4-6 months after reporting to recover lost funds

Banks have solid tools and success rates for investigating ATM card theft. But it still takes significant time and effort to resolve issues and recoup losses in many cases.


ATM card theft can drain funds quickly and cause major hassles. With some diligence, you can equip yourself to prevent the majority of ATM card fraud.

Safeguard your card details and PIN. Check for skimmers before using an ATM. Monitor your accounts closely for unauthorized transactions. And report any suspicious activity to your bank immediately.

Staying proactive with ATM security provides protection and peace of mind for your hard-earned money.

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