Card Skimmers in Sri Lanka. How can you be safe at an ATM?


By now, you’ve likely seen the messages land in one of your many WhatsApp groups. The messages read differently. But they all give the same message. Card Skimmers were installed at ATM’s. Now we have victims of fraudulent transactions by criminals that used these skimmers to steal card details. So how bad is it and how can you protect yourself?

What exactly are Card Skimmers?

This where criminals use a small device to steal debit/credit card information. These devices are typically installed at ATMs or card readers at stores. When your card is swiped through these devices, the details of your card are captured. With these details at hand, the criminals then use it to steal your money.

Currently, that’s what’s happening here in Sri Lanka. People went into an ATM to withdraw cash. Unknown to them, these ATMs had a card skimmer attached. So as they withdrew their cash, their card details were also stolen. And it can be challenging to avoid their fate.

In many instances, these skimming devices are placed over the slots where you insert your card. These devices capture the details stored on the magnetic strip of your card. Additionally, they work in conjunction with a hidden camera or fake keypad placed over the original. These other devices are used alongside the skimmer to capture your PIN number.

How badly has it affected Sri Lanka?

After calling the customer service hotline of LankaClear, they had confirmed to ReadMe that all ATM’s were safe to use now. However, they didn’t share the full extent of the damage done by these attacks with us. Similarly, the banks haven’t issued a statement anywhere on social media either.

ATM | Card Skimmers
LankaPay’s statement about ATM Card Skimmers

Nonetheless, we reached out to the banks as well. We spoke with customer service representatives from the following banks:

  • Commercial Bank
  • Nations Trust Bank (NTB)
  • Nations Development Bank (NDB)
  • Amana Bank
  • Sampath Bank

None of the banks above denied being affected by card skimmers except NDB. Both Commercial Bank and Amana Bank have said they’ve rectified the issue. Meanwhile, NTB stated that they’ve taken their ATMs offline to investigate the matter. Similarly, Sampath Bank too stated that its currently investigating the full extent of the skimming attack.

But what if you’ve become a victim of this ATM card skimming incident? When ReadMe spoke to the banks, the customer service representatives stated that they would reimburse any affected customers. This would be following an investigation. On this topic, NTB gave us the clearest answer. The NTB representative stated that after investigation customers would be reimbursed after two working days.

It can go beyond your ATM

This isn’t the first time that Sri Lanka has had to deal with ATM card skimmers. However, this is likely the first time we’ve seen multiple banks be affected. Furthermore, this incident has occurred on a long weekend. A time when many personnel from banks are away on leave. As such, one can’t help but assume this was a premeditated attack.

Card Skimmers | ATM
You can also find card skimmers in a place like this. (Image credits: Business Today)

That paints a dangerous picture for the future. This is because card skimmers aren’t only found at ATMs. They can also be found on the sales terminals at supermarkets like Keells, Cargills, or Arpico. Such terminals are practically everywhere.

To quote John Biggs, “Point of sale terminals are widely unguarded and offer the best of security theatre – you think you’re safe because they look like the egg sacs of some armored beast but, with a quick addition of a skimmer, you create something that is deeply unsafe.”

And in places like restaurants or cafes where we casually give our cards to waiters when paying, it’s even easier to use card skimmers. Why? Because hardly anyone ever sees the sales terminal. Another example of a place is toll booths like those on the Expressways. It was in such a toll booth, that a South African criminal used a card skimmer.

How can you stay safe from card skimmers?

If you’re paranoid and terrified, then there’s only one sure option. Cancel your cards and switch to using cash for the rest of your life. Of course, that means unless you have unnatural amounts of good luck, you’ll be stuck waiting in a queue at the bank for ages.

Sadly, life can be quite inconvenient without a debit or credit card. So what are your real options? For starters, activate mobile banking alerts. The exact charges for this can vary depending on your bank. But this would give you text message alerts whenever money is deposited or withdrawn from your account.

Card Skimmer | ATM
Many card skimmers come off easily (Image credits: CBS New York)

Furthermore, before using an ATM be sure to inspect it with a sharp eye. Check for obvious signs of tampering such as dents or any broken parts.

The easiest way is by nudging the card reader and keypad. Card skimmers and fake keypads can be easily removed. So if any part of the ATM doesn’t feel firmly secured, then you might have found a skimmer. And be sure to cover the keypad when you’re entering your PIN to protect it from hidden cameras.

Finally, remember that card skimmers can also be found at businesses. These can be even harder to spot. Asking to nudge its parts might also be greeted with confused stares by sales personnel at stores. Thus, all the more reason to activate mobile banking alerts.

ATM | Card Skimmers
Card Skimmers can be everywhere. The key to staying safe is vigilance (Image credits: Federated Payments)

At the end of the day, avoiding card skimmers is all about keeping a vigilant eye. In the digital world, this is how we stay safe from all kinds of threats. To quote Eva Velasquez, CEO and President of the Identity Theft Resource Center, “Sometimes, avoiding card skimming isn’t about detecting a device. It can be about modifying your behavior.” So if you spot any suspicious withdrawals from your account, be sure to inform your bank immediately.


  1. We could introduce OTP or any other 2way authentication method to mitigate this. So the fraudsters wont be able to proceed without the permission from our end. And we could alert the relevant bank to trace for such attacks.

  2. It’s astonishing that none of the banks have come forth with a public statement about this. We live in an age where WhatsApp groups are the very essence of misinformation. I didn’t believe any of these messages until I heard that this happened to a colleague of mine. Are the banks just chilling with their legs up and glass of whiskey in their hands cause they don’t give two cents about the stolen money? Shouldn’t they be more proactive educating the public about this? Are the people affected covered by any insurance?


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