Common ATM scams in Kenya

Nkeletseng Fafudi

It is almost impossible to sum up the importance of a bank account into one word and through the ingenuity of banks, we no longer keep money under our mattresses.. For this particular reason, when ATM scams in Kenya December 2012 were at an all time high, many dread visiting an ATM or swiping their cards in fear of being caught out by scammers.

As the festive season approaches, this serves as a reminder to exercise caution when using your credit or debit card at your local ATM.

Take a look at the top ATM scams in Kenya;

ATM scams are not just happening in our country, but it is important that you are aware of the various criminal acts at play and to remember;  no one is entitled to your money without your consent.

Card Trapping or “The Lebanese Loop”


Thieves insert this device over an ATM card slot to seize a user’s card. The Lebanese Loop has a hook that ‘traps’ a card and stops it from being ejected. As an ATM user when you attempt to make a withdrawal, the machine (fitted with a Lebanese Loop) is unable to identify your card through the magnetic strip and will thus continuously ask you for your PIN.

After entering your PIN numerous times and failing to make a transaction, you will usually assume the card has been “swallowed” due to a fault with the machine. At this point, seeing your frustration, scammers will either say the same thing has happened to them and attempt to assist you or because you have entered your PIN enough times for them to have a look, will wait for you to leave and then spring into action and drain your account.

If you are later met by an “ATM repairman”or someone identifying himself as “a police investigator” that needs the card for “evidentiary purposes” do not turn the card over to them for any reason. Legitimate law enforcement officers will never ask you to hand over your ATM card.



Card-skimming is the theft of payment card information during an ATM withdrawal. A device, known as a ‘skimmer’ copies the card information through the magnetic strip on the back. This device is usually fitted on top of the card slot and resembles part of the ATM.

In other cases it may be placed closer to the card slot labelled “card cleaner” with a suggestion to swipe your card before using it. Many card-skimming devices incorporate a micro camera to spy on and capture user’s PIN codes.

Card-skimming also occurs at restaurants and retail stores where an employee may swipe your card through a card machine fitted with a card-skimmer.  Corrupt employees are thieves too and you should always make sure your card is swiped in front of you and the correct amount is logged into the card machine.

The information copied from your card includes your balance, account number and PIN and fraudsters use these details to make a duplicate of your card  to access your card freely. The fake card is sometimes used for shopping, where you will only see on a bank statement or when you notice certain transactions that don’t add up.

Fake PIN pads and fake ATMs


Criminals place hidden PIN pads so that they can copy ATM user’s information. With a fake PIN pad placed on top of a normal ATM PIN pad you are essentially making transactions without realising your information is being cloned. Unless you are able to check if the PIN pad is removable or not, chances are you will not be able to spot a fake PIN pad.

Scammers have also taken to occasionally setting up fake ATM machines in and around shopping centres and other public locations. As you place your card into the card reader, these fake ATMs machines compile your ATM PIN and account information. A screen then comes up to tell you the machine is out of order and as a result no money is dispensed.

Shoulder surfing


The most obvious case of shoulder surfing is when someone is in clear view of the screen and the PIN pad as you are making your transactions. There are, however, many gadgets scammers can use such as a wireless video camera placed in the machine.

Cash trapping


This is another scam that you may fall victim to without realising. With cash trapping, a device is inserted in the cash dispenser slot. The device blocks the money you withdraw from coming out of the ATM while your transaction has been successful. Fraudsters watch you leave empty handed, thinking that the machine is broke and then collect your money when you are out of sight.

The Top 10 ways to avoid being a victim of ATM scams

1) If you are using an ATM and your debit or credit card is confiscated, call the bank immediately from the ATM and block the card. Never wait for the following day, banks have 24 hour contact centres that deal with lost card reporting.

2) Avoid withdrawing money from a low foot traffic ATM where a thief can insert a device without a high risk of anyone noticing.

3) Never let anyone know your PIN, not even someone who works for the bank.

4) Check that the coast is clear before you proceed with using an ATM and remember, anyone who stands close to you when you make a transaction is a suspect.

5) If you make a withdrawal and your money is trapped, don’t walk away immediately, wait by the ATM and contact the bank from there.

6) Avoid using ATMs at odd hours, instead swipe your card if for instance you are travelling at night and you need fuel.

7) Prior to using an ATM, look out for any suspicious things that you have never seen before such an unfamiliar pin pads. If you need to be sure of any ATM changes, ask your bank.

8) Legitimate law enforcement officers will never ask you to hand over your ATM card. Never turn over your card to any one.

9 Make sure your card is always swiped in front of you at a restaurant, retailer or any other public space.

10) If the ATM has asked for your PIN more than once, alert the bank to report suspicious behaviour and remember to do this as you are standing at the ATM preventing scammers from seizing this moment to spring into action.

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