Green Skimmers Skimming Green

To combat an increase in ATM fraud from skimmer devices, cash machine makers have been outfitting ATMs with a variety of anti-skimming technologies. In many cases, these anti-skimming tools take the shape of green or blue semi-transparent plastic casings that protrude from the card acceptance slot to prevent would-be thieves from easily attaching skimmers. But in a surprising number of incidents, skimmer scammers have simply crafted their creations to look exactly like the anti-skimming devices.

Earlier this year, authorities in Ireland began dealing with a rash of ATM skimmers like the one picture directly below. The green anti-skimming device is backlit and oddly-shaped, a design intended to confound skimmer makers. But as can been seen from the first picture here, the only obvious difference between a compromised ATM and an unadulterated one in this case is a small plastic lip at the top, which the crooks in this attack used to house the electronic brains for their skimmer.

The second picture below shows the underside of the skimming device, removed from a compromised machine in the background.

A representative from the Garda (Irish Police) declined to discuss the skimming photos, saying that for legal reasons they were unable to comment on ongoing court cases. But a source close to the investigation said identical skimmers have been found attached to ATMs across the country. The source said a 33-year-old Moldovan man has been arrested in Limerick in connection with the attacks, which authorities have called part of a global ATM fraud operation.

Last fall, while lurking on some underground criminal forums, I encountered another type of skimmer masquerading as an anti-skimming device for cash machines made by NCR. The skimmer pictured below is sold for several thousand dollars by a Russian guy who has a presence on at least two major carding forums. His advertising literature claims the battery-operated device will hold a charge for about three days. He also claims his skimmer won’t work on Russian ATMs: “It will immediately disrupt those wishing to operate via Russian ATMs: A majority of the BINs [Bank Identification Numbers] of Russian banks are hardwired into the chip; they are not processed.”

Picture of a anti-skimmer skimmer for sale on underground forums.

When I first saw his skimmer photos, I wasn’t too impressed. I’d never seen anti-skimming devices that looked even remotely like his in real life. But that changed in December, when the wife and I traveled to Costa Rica for some friends’ destination wedding. While we were there, we had a chance to stay in and hike through the gorgeous Monteverde Cloud Forest, and at the end of a guided tour through the forest I needed to stop by the ATM to tip our guide. When I got to the town’s bank and saw the ATM pictured below, I took a step back. For one thing, the NCR ATM looked like it had one of these fake anti-skimmer devices attached.

I grew more nervous when I noticed that the only other ATM at this bank was out of order (skimmer thieves often place out-of-order signs on nearby ATMs that are not compromised, in a bid to steer people to the hacked ATM). I yanked pretty hard on the green device affixed to the ATM, and it remained attached. Left with the choice between stiffing our driver and excellent guide without a tip and taking out cash from this machine, I chose the latter. I haven’t seen any suspicious charges yet, but it just goes to show you how even a little knowledge of these ATM skimmers really can make you paranoid.


Have you seen:

ATM Skimmers: Hacking the Cash Machine…Most of the ATM skimmers I’ve profiled in this blog are comprised of parts designed to mimic and to fit on top of existing cash machine components, such as card acceptance slots or PIN pads. But sometimes, skimmer thieves find success by swapping out ATM parts with compromised look-alikes.

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