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PIN and protect: Scam-proof your money

Published:Sunday | November 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Sunday Gleaner Writer

Edmundo Jennez, general manager of Multi Link transaction operator JETS, says PIN protection is simple, and in at least one strategy, handy - in more ways than one. He suggests that when entering their PIN at an ATM, persons cover the keypad with their free hand. This would obscure any cameras which may have been illegally installed by debit-card scammers.

However, PIN protection starts on approaching the ATM. "If you see any sign that it has been tampered with or something is not looking right, do not use it. Go to the institution," Jennez said.

There is the possibility of the card information being collected at the point of entry into the facility, Jennez pointing out that the swipe access could have been tampered with, or the criminals even putting up their own. He advises that one use an alternate card, "any mag stripe card you have that does not have your info. It reads the magnetic strip on the card, not the number". So if someone uses a card apart from their bank card to enter the machine, they will gain access without compromising their information.

And he said that on inserting their card, persons should check that it is going into the correct slot.

Jennez said in Canada and the United States, there was a scam where persons set up a machine outside the ATM and called it a 'card washer', asking that people who felt that their cards were dirty clean them in the device. Some people did so, and their PINs were duly compromised. "We have not seen that level of sophistication here in Jamaica," Jennez said. "What we have seen is tampering at the ATM itself," he said. And as devices like cameras are used, he said "a lot of these are peripheral".

He uses a line-of-sight rule of thumb for protecting the PIN during point-of-sale transactions, where the card is used to buy goods and services directly. "Never let your card out of your sight. You must have line of sight. Some people have portable readers," Jennez said.

Portable device

At gas stations, he pointed out that someone sitting in a car and entering his or her PIN on a portable device would be in a good position to be observed by the attendant, so concealing the keypad was also advisable.

In general, Jennez said persons should check their accounts regularly and report any irregularities immediately to their financial institution so the card could be blocked.

Jennez defined the PIN as the "link in the whole situation" of electronic banking. "The principles of how to keep the thing safe are straightforward. One person said you must treat the debit card as you would the key to your house. You keep it secure, on your person, and PIN private, and your are 99.9 per cent safe," Jennez said.

And while Multi Link handles what Jennez calls network activity - transactions where customers use ATMs not operated by their financial institution, which is only a fraction of the total debit-card transactions - Jennez pointed to an approximate 0.005 per cent scam rate.

"Ultimately, good processes, good procedures, and good use of the card can eliminate most of the 'risk'," Jennez said.