Crime & Justice

'Shoulder surfing' theft at ATMs on the rise — here's how to protect your PIN

In this file photo, an ATM on Third Avenue is viewed in New York on May 10, 2013. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer warned Thursday of a rise in
In this file photo, an ATM on Third Avenue is viewed in New York on May 10, 2013. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer warned Thursday of a rise in "shoulder surfing," when someone lingers near an ATM, waits for you to enter your PIN and swoops in to withdraw cash before you're fully logged out.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Every time you use an ATM to transact business with your bank, you're vulnerable to a certain kind of theft known as "shoulder surfing."

That's when someone lingers near an ATM, waits for you to enter your personal identification number and swoops in to withdraw cash before you're fully logged out of the system.

Law enforcement officials and banks say this type of theft is on the rise across the country, according to Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer. On Thursday, he announced charges against two such "shoulder surfers" in the San Fernando Valley.

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According to Feuer's office, two separate victims reported unauthorized withdrawals of $200 and $500 shortly after using an ATM at the Tarzana branch of Bank of America on Jan. 8.

Lynell Anthony Peterson, 20, approached the ATM after each victim had used it, while Seth Arnold, 24, stood lookout, according to a statement from Feuer's office. 

Los Angeles police officers arrested them the same day based on a description from the bank manager. Their activity was also captured in a security video.

Peterson was charged with two counts of identity theft, two counts of petty theft and one count of driving on a suspended license. Peterson faces up to three years and six months in jail and $5,000 in fines if convicted, and his bail was set at $50,000.

Arnold was also charged with one criminal count for acting as a lookout.

The District Attorney's Office shared a number of tips to help consumers avoid having their PINs stolen by "shoulder surfers."

Chief among them is to always wait until you're fully logged out before leaving the ATM. But consumers should also be aware of small cameras set up to record you entering your PIN and "skimmers," devices attached to the ATM that scan your information when you insert your card. 

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Here's the full list of tips:

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