Home > Personal Finance > No Debit Card? No Problem! Some ATMs Are Going Swipe-Free

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After decades of consistent design, ATMs are undergoing a lot of change. One of the big shifts comes with debit cards — the addition of EMV chips in the U.S. — but another skips the card altogether, as some banks roll out cardless ATMs.

These technologies aim to prevent fraud in a world where data breaches and card skimming affect millions of consumers. While EMV has been in place for about a decade in other countries and will roll out across the country within the next several months, it’s much less likely you’ll encounter an ATM that you can operate without a debit card.

Depending on where you bank, it might be an option. Financial services company Fiserv just finished a cardless-ATM pilot program with VyStar Credit Union in Jacksonville, Fla., which allows members to make withdrawals at participating ATMs using a secure access code and PIN. If memorizing codes isn’t your thing, maybe that’s not a great alternative to using a card, but it might be a safer way to use ATMs. ATM skimmers — devices installed in ATMs that record card data, allowing criminals to steal it — cost consumers across the world billions of dollars a year, according to various estimates.

Of course, some ATM skimming occurs with the use of tiny cameras that capture codes entered on the machine’s number pads, so skipping a card to punch in a bunch of numbers may not deter theft at all. Still, not needing a card can be helpful if you forgot yours at home or are waiting for a replacement (a common occurrence after a data breach), so there are perks beyond security to using card-free ATMs.

Some banks in the Midwest have started offering a similar service, but instead of using an access code, consumers use their smartphones to replace the role of a debit card in an ATM transaction. BMO Harris installed hundreds of cardless ATMs in the Chicago area earlier in 2015, and Wintrust Financial rolled out cardless ATMs in the Chicago area and southern Wisconsin around the same time, reported the Chicago Tribune. Both setups require the consumer to pull up a QR code on their smartphones (this requires cellphone reception or Internet access), and the ATM scans that code in lieu of the customer swiping a debit card. Prior to scanning the code, users set how much they wish to withdraw using a mobile banking app.

Whether these tools improve ATM security is unclear (as is the effect of EMV debit cards on card skimming), but payment technology will surely continue to evolve as companies chase two major areas of consumer satisfaction: better convenience and advanced fraud protection. Meanwhile, it’s crucial for consumers to closely monitor their financial accounts, so they can quickly stop any unauthorized activity that does occur. The same goes for your credit. An unexplained change in your credit score can help you spot fraud — you can check your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com to check for red flags.

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