Fishy-looking ATM

Last month I spotted the following ATM card slot, outside a branch of HSBC:

The ATM slot as I found it

I don’t know about you, but to me that looks fishy as hell:

  1. The card reader is a separate, protruding, differently coloured piece of plastic
  2. The surrounding surface shows clear lacerations from tool work

Additionally, it looked very much like the one described in a blog post that I had seen recently, by Paul Battley. Please read this account of the story, it’s not long:

I went into the office and reported my suspicions, however these didn’t get the treatment I expected. The person who I talked to simply smiled, nodded, and showed no sign of caring in the slightest. The most I got was an (I felt) unconvincing assurance that the matter would be looked into at their earliest convenience. The day after nothing had changed. I then phoned HSBC, but got the very same treatment.

Two weeks after this incident, the card slot remained the same, so I could only assume there was no skimmer device. Then another week later, the slot finally changed, but didn’t improve the situation:

Same ATM slot, some weeks later

Interestingly, Paul Battley’s situation had been handled similarly. In his case it was with RBS as the bank, and without the final slot change:

Paul wonders whether we are screwed because ATM technicians can’t spot skimmer devices, or doomed because safe ATMs can’t be told from tampered ones. After my experience, I have to lean towards the second option.

This also makes me wonder to what extent banks are aware of this problem. Is this a case of the machine looking so fishy that people walk into the branch everyday to report suspicion? If that’s it, I can understand why staff don’t seem to care.

I also have reservations about how this problem is treated at a higher level: when I called HSBC, the person on the other side showed no interest either. I was actually asked for the address where this had happened, but it didn’t sound at all like they were typing it down anywhere. I know because my strong accent forces people on the phone to ask again for names and directions, and I always end up spelling them out. None of this occurred in this call, despite my ineptitude at pronouncing the word “Clerkenwell“.

I can see the bank’s side of the argument though. The one obvious way to get this right would be for the ATM’s front to be made of a single piece, with minimal protuberances or holes. I understand this can get expensive if they have to replace all machines across the country. I can’t tell how expensive though, and how this affects the business’s bottom line. Of course as a plain citizen who mistrusts banks and financial institutions by default, I’d tend to think they should bloody well get their asses in gear and solve this problem as this should be just peanuts from their executives’ bonuses, made up from money they swindle from us in a daily basis. But I don’t have the hard numbers, so I won’t go into that argument just yet.