Latin American ATM Scams/Thefts

Latin American ATM Scams/Thefts 1920 2560 Greg Ellifritz

In my book Choose Adventure: Safe Travels in Dangerous Places, I cautioned tourists to avoid “helpful” locals at the ATM machine and to shield the keypad from view while you are entering your PIN number.  Watch this short video to see real-life examples of ATM scams and thefts.  It’s very well done and you can see how smooth many of these criminals are.


Watch Out for Scammers at the ATMs in Mexico


ATM Card “Skimmers” in Foreign Countries

ATM Card “Skimmers” in Foreign Countries 580 487 Greg Ellifritz

As far as travel questions go, one of the most common inquiries I get is regarding how to safely make currency withdrawals from the bank and how to convert American dollars into the local currency.  I wrote an entire chapter on this topic in my book.

Needing local currency is not as important as it was 20 years ago.  Even in the developing world, grocery stores and restaurants almost always accept credit cards.

To summarize, I recommend that if the traveler needs local currency that he or she should simply withdraw local currency from a nearby bank ATM machine.  Exchange rates will be better than you get at the border money changers and ATMs are common in most cities.

The one thing you have to be aware of is the installation of a card “skimmer” on the ATM machine.  The articles below detail how card skimmers work and how they are used in Mexico.  The author’s advice holds true in most of the other world as well.  Read these three articles to get a comprehensive understanding of the issues involved:

Tracking a Bluetooth Skimmer Gang in Mexico

Tracking Bluetooth Skimmers in Mexico, Part II

Who’s Behind Bluetooth Skimming in Mexico?


ATM skimmers used to be pretty rare.  They were large contraptions that fit over the outside of the card reader on the ATM.  They were most commonly seen in tourist areas on “stand alone” ATMs that weren’t regularly serviced.

Now it seems that the ATM technicians are installing small bluetooth compatible skimmers to steal your data inside the machines themselves, at least in Mexico.  My best advice is to avoid ATMs in obvious tourist areas and to use the ATMs that are inside a bank.  Although not a foolproof strategy, doing this will at least limit your chances of having your card data stolen.


One other thing.  For foreign travel, you want a traditional ATM card, NOT an ATM debit card.  The traditional cards have daily withdrawal limits so the crooks can’t clean you out.  With the debit card, they can take out more money and charge things to your account.  The traditional ATM card will help limit the damages if your data or card is stolen.