Safety at the ATM…Part 17 and Counting

By Lucas Vidgen

It’s funny, but Guatemala’s rough and ready exterior can make you let your guard down sometimes. We’ve all got our panic levels maxed out about pickpockets, bagsnatchers and packslashers. We know not to travel at night and that everything from an avocado to a murder rap is negotiable.

But Guatemalan thieves are moving with the times, too. Below are a couple of the more high tech ways used to empty your bank account, and some suggestions to prevent the worst.

Card Cloners

This is the growth industry amongst Guatemalan scumbags.  They install a card reader (available online for under Q4000) inside the card slot of the ATM, which captures your card data. A hidden camera records you entering your PIN, and they have all they need to start draining your account at a rate of Q2000 per day. Most foreign accounts are insured against this, and you will get you money back – eventually – but it’s far more convenient to avoid it in the first place.

The best ATMs to use are locked up at night – in Xela, the ones inside Mont Blanc and La Pradera shopping malls are considered safe. The worst ones are in the little rooms out front of the bank. The Banks around Xela’s central Park are notorious for tampering.

If you really have to use an “unprotected” ATM, remember that your card data is useless without your pin – the theory is that if you cover your hand while inputting your PIN, the camera won’t record it and you should be safe.


This is much less common, but it does happen. In a nutshell, cyber thieves take advantage of travelers using internet banking, and install software in internet cafes that records every keystroke made on a computer. Once they have your username and password, they can transfer funds freely. To avoid this, only use internet cafes where you know they regularly scan the machines for keylogging programs. There’s a theory that if you open multiple Windows and enter garbage numbers at the same time as your details, thieves won’t be able to distinguish the real from the fake. Another says that, due to the high volume of data being exchanged, internet banking over wifi connections (using your own computer) is actually safer.

So there it is. Like everything else here, there’s no point in being paranoid, but it does pay to be aware of the issues.

*This advice is not conclusive, and comes from a bunch of people who know vaguely what they’re talking about. Use at your own risk.

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