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The 'helper scam' and how to avoid it

The scam involves both customers and ATMs. Two or more people stand behind the victim, while he or she withdraws cash from the ATM. First, they try to see and memorize the PIN number or password for the victim’s card.

The “helper scam” and how to avoid it - BBVA

Then, they throw some money or another card at the victim’s feet while he or she is withdrawing their money. One of the scam artists may pretend that their purse falls, dropping all their belongings, to distract the victim. This is when one of the scam artists tells the victim that they dropped money or a card. As the victim bends over to pick up the card, or the things that fell out of the purse, the scam artists extract the bank card and replace it with a different one.

The scam artists come prepared and the cards look very similar so many people do not notice when the make the switch.

The victim usually takes their money and fake card and leaves. That’s when the scam artists use the card and PIN number to take out as much cash as the card will allow and change the original PIN number. They may use “mules” (couriers) to withdraw the money to avoid being caught red handed.

How to protect yourself

First, remain aware of your surroundings when using ATMs. ATMs with locks are ideal to ensure privacy when performing transactions.

The police recommend using extreme discretion with bank cards and making sure no one sees your PIN number. Also, don’t share your cards with other people or lose sight of them when paying in stores.

If you suspect that your card may have been compromised, always cancel it as a security precaution and request a new one.

Don’t forget to check your account statement regularly for suspicious charges and contact your bank if something doesn’t look right.