While most people rely on alternatives like debit and credit cards, there are times when having cold, hard cash is essential. Usually, that means making a quick trip to an ATM, which seems like an innocuous thing to do. However, pulling money from an ATM does come with some risk, so it’s wise to take precautions. Here’s a look at how to safely withdraw cash from an ATM.

Choose the Right Location

Some ATMs are in lower-risk locations. For example, opting for an ATM inside a bank branch is generally safer. Those inside major retail stores and run by major banking institutions may also come with less risk, as the presence of employers and other shoppers could deter would-be thieves. ATMs in higher-end hotels can also offer some security, particularly if they’re within eyeshot of the receptionist.

If those aren’t available, choose a relatively exposed ATM in a well-lit area that has a decent amount of regular traffic. ATMs with booths that require you to swipe a card to enter may also give you some security.

Any ATM that’s dimly lit, off the beaten path, or shielded by structures or plants usually puts you at the greatest risk. Even drive-thru ATMs can be high-risk if concrete supports for overhead covers or similar structural features give thieves places to hide, so keep that in mind.

Favor Familiar ATMs

Sticking with an ATM you use regularly can reduce your risk. You could increase your odds of noticing if something seems out of place, making it less likely that you’ll get caught by a card skimmer, for example. You might also realize if any activity in the area of the ATM seems odd in comparison to your other visits.

Plus, you’ll be able to anticipate the steps you need to take to complete your transaction. Your familiarity may let you move faster, which can make you safer.

Just make sure that familiarity doesn’t lead to complacency. Any ATM can potentially be targeted by thieves, so remain vigilant the entire time you’re in the vicinity of the ATM or actively using the machine.

Look for Anything Odd About the Machine

Regardless of whether you’re using a familiar ATM or one you’ve never touched before, spend time examining the machine before you proceed. Card skimmers, hidden cameras, keypad readers, and similar devices require some tampering with the ATM. If you see weird scratches, broken security stickers, loose parts, hanging wires, or anything else odd, head to another ATM.

Even if you don’t immediately notice something out of the ordinary, it’s wise to be certain. Gently try to wiggle the card reader, as manufacturer-installed ones won’t move, while card skimmers placed over the slots may jiggle.

For the keypad, see if you can see open spaces surrounding each key. If it looks like there’s a cover over it, try to wiggle it carefully. The goal is to simply look for odd movement, so you don’t need to use much force. If there is any, don’t proceed with your transaction.

Pay Attention to Other People

Vigilance is often the key when you want to safely withdraw cash from an ATM. If anyone is lingering close to the machine, they might be deciding whether to try and steal your money. Alternatively, they may be trying to capture card details or PIN numbers.

Most people who don’t mean you any harm will give you ample space to handle your transaction, so be cautious if anyone is attempting to get unnecessarily close. A person offering to help you with an ATM, claiming it’s malfunctioning or being difficult, is also a red flag, so it’s best not to proceed with withdrawing any money.

Even if no one approaches you, if something doesn’t seem right, leave. It’s better to play it safe and head to an ATM where you feel more secure than risk it.

Know Where Your Card Is

Speed is your friend when you want to safely withdraw cash from an ATM. Know precisely where your ATM card is well before you approach the machine. Any time spent fumbling through your wallet or searching your purse leaves you vulnerable, as you aren’t as aware of your surroundings. By being able to move quickly, there are fewer opportunities for thieves to engage with you without putting themselves at risk.

Approach Drive-Thru ATMs Correctly

When you use a drive-thru ATM, you need to pull up as close to the machine as possible. That allows you to conduct the transaction through your window without having to open the door. Plus, it makes it difficult for someone to squeeze between your vehicle and the ATM.

Keep all of your other windows up and your doors locked. Leave the car running, making it easier to drive away quickly if you detect a threat.

Don’t Count Your Cash at the ATM

Many people feel the need to stop and count their cash as soon as it’s dispensed. However, doing so leaves you distracted. Plus, it may allow thieves to see how much you withdrew, which might make you a bigger target if the sum is significant.

Instead, quickly put your cash away. You can count it later after you get to a safe area.

Be Cautious If Using the Phone

When you’re using your phone while approaching or using an ATM, you’re often less aware of your surroundings. Phone calls can prevent you from hearing someone quietly coming up to you, while activities like texting keep your eyes focused on the screen, increasing your odds of missing something suspicious.

If you’re using your phone at a cardless ATM, have the app open and ready before you approach the machine. That ensures you aren’t spending time focused on the screen while you head toward the ATM or pause in front of it to prepare for your transaction.

After connecting to a contactless ATM, secure your phone quickly. Even if a thief initially had their sights set on cash, a high-value phone that’s easy to grab and run off with could be seen as a potential target. By putting your phone away fast, there’s less of an opportunity.

Bring a Friend (or a Dog)

Having someone else with you makes you less of a target. Your friend can be an extra set of eyes, keeping a watch while you use the machine.

Bringing a well-trained dog can also work in your favor. You can have them sit next to you, facing away from the ATM. Since dogs may bark when approached by someone they don’t know, alerting you to a potential problem, many thieves won’t advance if there is a dog present.

Get a Receipt

Getting your receipt allows you to later compare the transaction to the balance in your account. If something fraudulent occurred due to using an ATM, you’d have an easier time proving that’s what happened if you have an accurate, original receipt.

Consider an ATM Alternative

ATMs aren’t the only way to withdraw cash from your bank account. If you have a debit card, you could make a small purchase at a retailer that allows you to request cashback instead. While you may be limited to specific dollar amounts, it lets you to handle the transaction through a cashier, which could make it safer.

If your bank is open, heading inside and making a withdrawal through a teller is also safer in many cases. You can specify exactly how much you want, choose denominations for the bills, and the teller will count it out for you before handing it over. Plus, you can quickly tuck the money away while still inside the bank and may even be able to request a security escort to your car if the sum is larger.

Do you have any tips that can help someone safely withdraw cash from an ATM? Have you ever had a safety issue with pulling money from an ATM and want to share your experience? Do you avoid ATMs due to potential dangers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Read More:

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  • Can You Cash a Check Without ID?
  • Should You Still Be Using Cash Envelopes in the Digital Age?

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Tamila McDonald
Tamila McDonald

Tamila McDonald has worked as a Financial Advisor for the military for past 13 years. She has taught Personal Financial classes on every subject from credit, to life insurance, as well as all other aspects of financial management. Mrs. McDonald is an AFCPE Accredited Financial Counselor and has helped her clients to meet their short-term and long-term financial goals.