A while ago, I was listening to an episode of This American Life. I had to use Google to find the show because I couldn’t remember most of the show but I did remember one part of the episode. A guy comes home from a party and goes to use the bathroom. He lifts the toilet seat to find a rat looking up at him from inside the toilet bowl. A rat. Ira Glass, the show’s host goes on to inform us that finding a rodent in a toilet is not as unbelievable as one might think. It turns out that there are circumstances under which rodents can find their way into the pipes that become one’s toilet bowl. I can’t rightly remember exactly what these circumstances are because I was panicking too much to pay any real attention.
I am terrified of rodents. I can squash a cockroach without a second thought, I have been known to allow snakes to slither across my arm but the sight of a rodent has been known to reduce me to tears, while taking cover on whatever higher ground I can find. So, upon hearing this story, my deep-seated fear led to a modification of my habits.
I am a terrible sleeper; I have long been a terrible sleeper. Once I have woken up in the middle of the night, my body will use any excuse to decide that it cannot go back to sleep. Therefore, on the occasions that I need to get out of bed, on order to get water or use the bathroom, I do everything in the dark. I don’t want the stimulation of light. I even keep my eyes closed as much as possible. However, post This American Life, I have changed one thing. Now, I flash the bathroom light on for just long enough to lift the seat and inspect the toilet bowl for any intruders.
Similarly, the first time I read about ATM skimmers led to more research and various modifications in my behavior. ATM skimming is hardly new, but technology has helped criminals get better at it. ATM skimmers are basically machines that read and steal the information on the magnetic strip of your credit or debit card. This information is then used to steal your money. Thieves attach skimmers to the face of an ATM and, as a result, when you stick your card into what you believe is the ATM, you are actually passing it through a card reader that is recording all the information on your card. Older model skimmers used to be clunky and unwieldy and all but the most distracted ATM users could spot that something odd was attached to the ATM they wanted to use. Nowadays, however, the attachments are more sophisticated and harder to spot. Often, the skimmers are paired with a hidden camera that is there to record you entering your PIN, giving them all the information that they need in order to clone your bank card.
When I use an ATM, before I use it, I go through a routine that may look odd to anyone passing by. I move my hand over the card slot and try to see if I can move it or if it is firmly fixed in place. I look it over and step back to see if I can spot anything out of place. I also look around to see if I can see a camera. Once I have done the physical check of the ATM, I slide my card in and make sure that I cover up, as much as possible, the keypad as I enter my PIN. I am pretty sure that it is not a foolproof method of avoiding card skimmers, but I do know that taking these precautions has helped people spot these machines and avoid getting their money stolen. Just a few days ago, a card skimmer was discovered at a subway station in Manhattan. In addition to the precautions I take when I use the ATM (this would also apply for those of you who drive and use the Pay-At-The-Pump facility to pay for gas) I also check my bank and credit card accounts just about daily. I have already shared my story about how I learned how important it is to keep track of my finances. The risks brought about by card skimmers increase the need to check up regularly on finances.
So I continue with my little tics. I flash the light and lift the seat carefully. I shake, rattle and roll before I use my card to get money out of the cash machine. So I do a little dance before I get things done, but it is way better to be safe than to have your bottom engaged in combat with a rodent, or to find that your accounts have been cleaned out by a wily crook with a card skimmer and a tiny camera.