Beware of ATM frauds

As customers and banks lose millions in ATM frauds and scamsters go scot free, it’s time for us to do a reality check on what goes wrong and how to avoid being stripped of our precious savings
The Community By Khushboo Naved Devji
Published on July 1, 2014

DUBAI Imagine you are relaxing at home in Dubai and you receive a text message on your phone… It reads: ‘Dear Customer, AED20,000 has been withdrawn from your account via your ATM card from Malaysia. Your balance is zero.’ Dumbfounded, your hands automatically reach for your purse… and all you do is helplessly stare at your ATM card… absolutely intact.
No clue as to how your ATM password was stolen? Well folks, welcome to the world of ATM scams, where millions are withdrawn by strangers you have never met. Sample these hair-raising incidents….
May 22, 2014: A stranger from Malaysia withdraws Dh7, 000 from Dubai resident Anand’s Commercial Bank International (CBI) account, thereby leaving him penniless.
June 9, 2014: Mugged by a fraudster in the US, Sharjah resident Hussain Mohammed loses Dh20,000 between June 7 and June 8, 2014 in two separate transactions.
June 11, 2014: A Dubai resident is left in the lurch after he is robbed of Dh4,700 while his ATM card still remains in his pocket. The incident takes place a few days before his wife’s delivery.
June 4, 2014: Dubai expat Aditya Kulkarni’s phone buzzes five times and in a jiffy Dh25,000 goes out of his account leaving him with only Dh35. The transactions take place from Canada where Kulkarni has never ever travelled.
June 3, 2014: Abu Dhabi resident Mohammaed Anas is ripped off of Dh2,700 in an ATM breech from Florida, USA.
In December 2012 and February this year, a gang of cybercriminals stole $45 million (Dh165 million) in a matter of hours by hacking their way into a database of prepaid debit cards — in two separate incidents last December and February this year — and then draining cash machines around the globe. Two banks in the GCC — Rakbank in the UAE and the BankMuscat in Oman — were affected in the heist.
Thousands of residents and banks have fallen prey to ATM frauds, losing millions to hackers. According to the Nilson Report, payment card issuers, merchants, and their acquiring banks lost $11.27 billion (Dh41.39 billion) to fraud in 2012. A spokesperson from Dubai Police said the UAE has been the target of a number of fraudulent cases in recent months.
One UAE resident lost $5 million (Dh18.36 million) in 2012 from his Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Bank account via an ATM breach — the biggest known fraud in the bank’s history. A spokesperson from RAK bank, on condition of anonymity, said, “Our bank and customers have often been subjected to such frauds in the last five years.”
While the police have tried their best to nab these criminals, what has been an eye-opener for them is the fact that these fraudsters do not even reside in the UAE. They access client’s data from miles away.


Hacking, phishing and other hi-tech methods are the feared modus operandi among bank robbers. “Faking additional machines in the ATM slots, card skimming etc. are the few frauds we have investigated,” the RAK Bank spokesperson said.

Skimming, one of the most common methods used by the fraudsters, involves a hardly recognisable device mounted on the ATM machine’s card slot. The device reads numbers, PIN codes and other transactions that take place. The information is transmitted to fraudsters through nearby hidden cameras that also capture the data.
Card swapping is another method used for robbing customers. The customer’s ATM card is swapped with another card without his or her knowledge in an ATM transaction. An ATM machine card reader is also often tampered with so that a customer’s card gets jammed and is held inside the card reader. The criminal removes the card once the customer leaves the ATM counter. There are many cases of vandalism too where an ATM machine is deliberately damaged and/or the card reader is jammed preventing the customer’s card from being inserted. And needless to mention, incidents of mugging, where the customer is physically attacked while conducting a transaction at an ATM machine, have often been reported in the media.


Few banks commit to refund victims. Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB), known for its customer service, have managed to recover most of its loses through ATM frauds. “In spite of tight security, our customers have faced such loses. However, our bank has managed to cover up the losses after investigations,” Humaid Mohamed Salim Balama, Branch Manager, Al Buhairah Branch, ADIB, said. “We are working on making the ATM machines more advanced and we constantly try reminding customers to change their PIN,” he added.


So what should we keep in mind to safeguard our accounts? If you get a suspicious text message stating withdrawal of funds, drop everything and rush to the bank to block your card. Dubai resident J. Peterson learnt this the hard way. She saw several cash transactions made on her account worth $5,400 (Dh20,000) each. She was warned by her bank — Lloyds TSB Middle East — but she thought it to be some spam message. To her horror, she realised later that she was robbed of a huge amount via an ATM machine from Turkey. The bank blocked her account but by then it was too late. So act fast and if not anything change the PIN.

Julian Ashall, former Chief Operating Officer at Llyods TSB Middle East and currently working as VP at Arab Banking Corporation, said banks today install ATMs with front-line anti-skimming technologies to prevent frauds. Customers need to be extra careful while using ATMs. They should guard their PIN numbers and contact their relevant banks should anything appear unusual at an ATM machine.
“Customers should also go for drafts when it comes to larger amounts and avoid cheques or other modes of payments,” Nawal Taimor, Branch Manager, King Faisal Branch, Commercial Bank International, said. “If anyone threatens you at an ATM machine while you are withdrawing your cash, type your PIN in the reverse order. This automatically signals threat and the machine will take your card away,” Nawal added.
Last month, The Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) unveiled a timetable to roll out EMV chip and PIN numbers with an international design to help prevent card fraud.
Instead of signing a receipt to authorise payments, customers will now be asked to enter their PIN using a point-of-sale terminal or ATM. As a part of this migration to chip and pin, all electronic points of sale will be switched on within this system in all ATMS, followed by debit and prepaid cards by the end of next year, a spokesperson from Central Bank of the UAE said. All credit and charge cards will also be upgraded to the suitability of the new system by the end of 2014.
According to Layla Shaheen, Assistant Vice President, Buhairah Branch, First Gulf Bank, “If our customers are travelling, they have to inform the bank for using the card abroad. In case of any transaction, the bank immediately contacts the customer to confirm the withdrawal.”
“ATM machines are also checked on a daily basis; we have refunded lost amounts to victims after investigations. If a customer withdraws a large amount, we block the card until we confirm that the owner himself is withdrawing,” she added.
As a measure to curb such scams, Dubai and Sharjah Police have teamed up to investigate reports of unauthorised cash withdrawals from bank accounts via ATM machines.


  • Look out for a tiny camera around your ATM vestibules
  • Take a close look at the keypad. If it looks thicker than usual, it may be overlaid with a fake one
  • Move or jiggle the card reader. If it moves, you should go to another ATM machine
  • Look over the ATM for any extra piece that doesn’t match the styling of the machine.
  • Scammers often place a fascia
  • Cover with your hands while typing the PIN number
  • Do not count money at the ATM
  • If someone threatens you in front of an ATM machine, type your PIN in the reverse order. This will indicate threat and the ATM machine will take your card away.


1. Do you know anyone who has been a victim of ATM fraud?
2. Do you have any suggestions that can be implemented to avoid such frauds?
Do send in your feedback by writing to us at


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