Tips to Avoid ATM Skimmers in Mexico

If you plan on using an ATM during your stay in Mexico, you should be aware that skimming is a significant problem in tourist areas.

Just in case you are unfamiliar with the term, skimming is the theft of your card number and PIN through the use of electronic devices that record the information. The thief can then create a duplicate card and start withdrawing your hard-earned cash.

A few of my expat friends in Mexico have fallen victim to this one over the last year. In most cases, their bank detected the suspicious activity fairly quickly and deactivated the card.

That was the good news. The bad news was that they couldn’t access their money until they could get their hands on a replacement card. In every case, their banks refused to send a replacement card to Mexico for “security reasons”. This is why I recommend that people carry a backup credit card just for emergencies.

The purpose of today’s post is to educate you about some common ways that thieves steal your debit/credit card number and PIN. Once you know how they are doing it, you can follow the safety tips to reduce the odds of becoming a victim.

Hidden Cameras

PIN numbers are often collected using small hidden cameras that are either attached directly to the ATM or close enough to view the keypad.

Thieves will often conceal them in a piece of plastic that appears to be part of the machine. A popular location for hidden cameras is just above the screen or on the side walls of the ATM (if there are any). In the case below, the thieves attached a security mirror to the machine that concealed the camera.


Thieves attached a security mirror that concealed a hidden camera pointing down at the keypad

Skimmers and Keypad Overlays

Skimmers are often attached directly to the card port of the ATM and they are made to look like part of the ATM. You should always inspect the card entry port carefully for anything suspicious. If the entry port is protruding, don’t be afraid to test it by pulling on it or trying to twist it.


A skimming device was placed over the card port of the ATM



Another style of skimming device made to fit over the existing card port



This photo shows the ATM with the device attached

You should always inspect the keypad to see if it is loose or appears to sit up too high. Thieves often use fake keyboard overlays (shown below) to record your PIN.


Keypad overlay

Internal Devices

This one is the hardest to detect because the skimming device has been installed inside the machine itself. The most common way that thieves accomplish this is by bribing a technician responsible for working on the machines.

Security journalist Brian Krebs found a large number of ATM’s with internal skimming devices when he came to the Yucatan Peninsula in 2015. He even found them in ATM’s located inside “secure” resorts. To read his articles, click HERE.

Although you will not be able to see the skimmer, you may be able to detect it with a special piece of equipment — your cell phone. Many of the skimming devices use Bluetooth technology that allow the thieves to retrieve the data periodically without even touching the machine.

To detect a Bluetooth network, go to connections on your cell phone (not Wi-Fi) and search for nearby Bluetooth devices. The default network name for one of the Bluetooth devices being used for skimming is “Free2Move”. If you see that network on your phone, it’s definitely a skimmer.

Most Bluetooth devices have a short range. If you are able to detect any suspicious Bluetooth devices in the vicinity of an ATM, I would skip that machine altogether.

Tips to Follow

  1. Try to use ATM’s at banks or in areas where it would be difficult for thieves to tamper with the machines unnoticed.
  2. Take a moment to look around the machine for hidden cameras.
  3. Look at the card port carefully for a skimming device. If it protruding at all, pull on it and try to twist it. If it is loose or comes off, don’t use the machine.
  4. Look at the keypad closely. If the keypad is loose, don’t use the machine.
  5. Use your free hand to conceal the numbers on the card when you insert it into the ATM and when you remove it.
  6. Use your free hand to conceal the keypad as you enter your PIN.
  7. Take a moment to look for a Bluetooth signal in the area of the ATM.
  8. Check your bank and/or credit card statements every day (never use a shared computer at the hotel for this).
  9.  Never use your debit card to pay for items at businesses or restaurants.

Let’s Wrap This Up

By consistently following the tips in the preceding section, you can substantially reduce the probability that you will have your card number and PIN stolen at the ATM.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico ( to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

28 Comments on "Tips to Avoid ATM Skimmers in Mexico"

  1. Thanks, good tips

  2. sirbitsy2011gmailcom | September 20, 2016 at 8:14 pm |

    WOW! So much usable information in one article! Thanks for that.

  3. Great tip but skimmers are just as big a problem here on this side of the border.

    • Yes, I know. I was a cop for 25 years in Florida. It is does seem to be more widespread here than where I used to work and I was in a tourist area too.

  4. Worked several of these cases. Good information! The Krebes link was a good article. Sat with him at an ACFE conference last year. Interesting guy. Thanks Paul. Keep up the great work!

  5. This is extremely valuable information for those of us who travel to Mexico. We use the ATM all the time where we vacation and are considering making it our permanent home. The one thing in our favor, is that it is not a popular tourist destination like the Yucatan. The tourists are largely Mexican, and this is seasonal. Thank you very much for this information.

  6. 2x had my ATM card skimmed in Tulum and Playa on 2 separate trips. I never used ATMs that were open to public and thought I was being safe by using bank ATM’s. Well I still had my card skimmed. So be wary of bank ATM’s as well. Second time I reported my theft to my home bank, there were pretty suspicious of me and questioned me closely, hinting that maybe I was in on the scam. A continuing problem with this rate of occurrence makes me suspicious of who is involved and how high up it goes.

  7. Paul, I have some questions I’d like to ask that don’t relate to this article. Can you please let me know how to contact you?

    • Click on the contact form on the site and you can send a message to me. I will be able to email you back (provided the email address is correct and your spam filter is not overly aggressive)…:)

  8. I have read these warnings and never remember to do it. I’m thinking about putting a “label” around my debit card with the reminder that I have to peel off before using the card, Especially seeing the comment about it happening even at bank ATMs. I always thought an ATM practically in the bank’s lobby would be safe, right?

    • They are less likely to be tampered with because they are inside the bank, but there are no guarantees. Todo se puede en México.

  9. Chris and brian | September 22, 2016 at 4:37 am |

    Great blog Paul! We use a debit card specifically for vacation every year and then deactivate it when we return home to the States.Is this a good practice in your opinion?Are we still at risk?Thank You

    • I haven’t heard of that one before. I like it. You are still at risk in the short term while you are vacation but not after that.

  10. I would suggest using Express-Send transfers. You use your online baking to transfer up to $1500 to one of 6 major banks in Mexico. You get a confirmation # and the exact amount you will receive to take to the bank. You get the bank rate of that moment w/o any conversion or international fees. The charge is $2.50/transfer at my bank.

  11. Hey Paul, great article, but you reference research by “Michael Krebs”. I believe you’re referring to Brian Krebs – he does great work at significant personal risk, and deserves proper credit. Thanks!!

  12. Another great article Paul. Thank you!

  13. Jim Blatchford | January 23, 2017 at 4:50 pm |

    Thanks for these great tips.. Doris and I are going to PV in May. We will keep all of these tips in mind.

    Jim Blatchford

  14. After 10 years cash loading and servicing ATMs, I’ve removed more fake keyboards and cameras and readers than I can count. They are getting better and better at concealment and hardware. Also a good idea to carry a “protected” wallet with your cards secured against scanners. Easier than aluminum foil. 😉 Good article.

  15. Teresa mamaril | January 28, 2017 at 6:10 am |

    thnx for reminding me as we are leaving in a few hours for cabo have a great day and god bless

  16. Sophie Smith | March 6, 2017 at 11:55 am |

    I don’t understand the blue tooth -what is it and what do I have to do to use it.

    • BlueTooth is a wireless communication system that allows your phone to talk to your car so you can talk hands free. The same technology can allow thieves to communicate with the device placed inside an ATM in order to retrieve your data.

  17. Fantastic article! Thank you for your time in putting this article together. I enjoy the way you write as well!

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