How to avoid falling victim to card skimming in Bali

According to the reports, card skimming amounts to 98% of total fraud losses around the world and Bali is not an exception.

ATMs are plentiful here especially around popular tourist areas but not all of them are safe. And being a local, I feel obliged to give everyone who comes to Bali a peace of mind and this guide will do just that.

Here are some of the tips you need to look at, and how to tell if the locations are safe to withdraw your money in Bali.

Inform your bank in advance

Before we even talk about the location, I’d like to remind that you should let your bank know that you’ll be traveling to Indonesia. I know I might sound like Captain Obvious, but ignoring this might risk your card getting blocked for what they think is suspicious activity, either when you withdraw cash or making cashless transactions.

Which ATM to choose

For starters, you shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the number of brands of high-street banks in Indonesia. They all accept foreign cards, as long as they’re categorized as Bank Umum/General Bank, which major national and foreign banks are classified into. Here is the list of the banks in popular order:

  1. Bank Central Asia (BCA)
  2. Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI)
  3. Bank Nasional Indonesia (BNI)
  4. Bank Mandiri
  5. Bank CIMB Niaga
  6. Bank Danamon
  7. Maybank
  8. Panin Bank

The banks you should avoid are those within the microfinancing category called BPR (short for Bank Perkreditan Rakyat) or Rural Banks. The reason has nothing to do with whether they’re bad or dodgy, but because their ATM machines are only intended for their own customers which are mostly small to medium enterprises looking to finance their businesses and their machines are practically useless for foreign cards.

ATM withdrawal limit

The withdrawal limit for ATMs in Bali is Rp1,500,000 for ATMs that dispense Rp50,000 banknotes; and Rp2,500,000 for those that dispense Rp100,000.

Where to withdraw your money

1. Denpasar Airport

I put this on top of my list because the security risk of withdrawing cash from ATMs inside the airport is obviously non-existent, and also because you can easily find ATMs from popular banks at both domestic and international arrival halls.

And unlike other popular Southeast Asian airports, here the machines are directly owned and operated by major national banks. They also offer currency exchange services, although only operate at normal business hours with slightly less competitive rate (about 1% difference) compared to established money exchange companies out there.

2. Bank branches

Bank buildings offer robust security since their machines are always watched by trained guards who are also ready to help you. Typically, banks are open only Monday to Friday from 8 AM to 3 PM, but their ATM machines are available 24/7. This is because even though banks keep their ATM machines inside the building, they’re separated from the rest of the building by rolling gates. These rolling gates will be closed during closed hours, allowing people to access just the ATM machines with supervised surveillance cameras. Any branch office is considered safe and I recommend them all regardless of their brand.

To look for a branch, open your Google Maps and simply type the brand + KCP (short for Kantor Cabang Pembantu/Branch Office) + the area you’re looking for. In this example, I want to search for “BNI KCP Canggu” and here’s what I found:

Nonetheless it pays to be vigilant so make sure you do a check before slotting your card especially when making transactions outside the opening hours.

3. ATM galleries

These galleries are easy to find, from the busiest neighbourhood in Kuta to the edge of the mountain cliff in Kintamani. You’ll want to find the one that is brand-new, well-lit and clean, as well as trusting your gut because there are many spots that are known to have been targeted by ATM skimmers from eastern Europe. From what I’ve seen on the news and the police record over the past few years, the reported ATM thefts always revolve around ATM galleries in popular tourist areas. Some ATM galleries are even mentioned repeatedly in the police reports and become infamous among tourists and expats in Bali.

A nice-looking and newly-built ATM gallery has a good surveillance system inside and outside which is effective to discourage those skimmers from doing their hustle.

Personally, I have never encountered skimming attempts both at convenience stores and ATM galleries in local neighbourhoods, but I understand not everyone will be able to travel around there, so in any cases only go to a brand-new ATM gallery.

4. Convenience stores

Convenience stores is, convenient, because if they operate an ATM, it’s always gonna be inside their building within the direct sight of their cashiers and surveillance cameras.

And just like ATM galleries, only slot your card to the one that you think is trustable. Another downside is not all stores have an ATM machine and are open 24 hours so if you want to be certain, plan to take your money before 10PM (the regular closing time for all convenience stores).

Here are some of the convenience store brands in popularity order:

  1. Indomaret (most closed by 10PM)
  2. Alfamart (most closed by 10PM)
  3. Circle K (most open 24 hours)
  4. Coco Mart (most open 24 hours)
  5. Nirmala (most closed by 10PM)
  6. Pepito (most open by 24 hours)

Additional tips

1. Always be wary and try to shake up the slot every time before inserting your card

If it’s easily broken or even detached, then the ATM is being targeted by skimmers. Also see if there’s anything suspicious such as glue leftovers or a camera that points directly to the keypad.

2. Unlike ATMs in other countries, here some machines could sometimes dispense the card after the cash

If you’re not used to this you might easily forget your card as it takes 3-10 seconds to come out. If the guy behind you happens to be a bad person, they could use that card and drain your account without necessarily entering the PIN. Now, you might be wondering, why wouldn’t the bank require entering PIN for each transaction made as to each card inserted at their ATM? The answer is, only one bank does, and that is Bank Central Asia. Personally, they are my favourite and I put most of my money in their bank account.

3. Most ATMs have a safety procedure to swallow a card that is left for an extended period of time in the slot

If your card is accidentally swollen, call the service number stated on the machine, or if you really want to make sure you’re calling the official number, Google it, and then report your act of negligence. Some banks will send over their technician and return it directly to you, but others might require you to go to their nearest bank branch to retrieve the card. Don’t forget to take your passport with you as they will need to check it for verification.

4. Avoid using non-Indonesian banks that has a small presence

They’re known to impose the highest transaction charges among all ATMs due to their international reputations and you’ll be having a hard time finding local support if your card gets into trouble. This includes the likes of HSBC (UK), Citibank (US), DBS (Singapore), Commonwealth, ANZ (Australia) and more.

5. Always choose to do a transaction in Indonesian Rupiah when you are prompted to choose between that and your home currency

It has something to do with Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) which gives the liberty to the ATM provider/bank to make up an exchange rate for you and pretty much puts you at a disadvantage. Avoid this if you don’t want to be surprised when your bank statement comes home.

I hope by following these tips, you can help protect yourself from card skimming and other types of card fraud while traveling in Bali. Good luck!

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