EXTRA vigilance has been urged in the run-up Christmas when withdrawing money from ATMs after a skimming device was recovered from the Ulster Bank in Andersonstown.

The ATM scam, which is on the rise as Christmas approaches, sees criminals attach a device to a cash machine or handheld pinpads which can fraudulently copy bank customer details stored on the magnetic strip at the back of their cash cards.

The PSNI has sent out a public alert after recovering the device from outside the busy West Belfast branch.

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said people “need to be careful” if they’re not to be caught out by scammers over Christmas.

“I can’t stress this enough,” he said, “if they notice any suspicious activity around ATMs or in their accounts they should inform their branch immediately. Banks also have a duty of care to ensure their clients are being safeguarded from these criminal acts .”

SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood said people must take responsibility for their financial security as the holiday season gathers pace.

“People using ATMs must be very alert as we go into the last few weeks of Christmas and people must protect their information,” he said.

Detective Chief Inspector Colin Gills appealed to anyone who was on the Ander-sonstown Road on Tuesday afternoon and who noticed anyone acting suspiciously to contact police. He added: “If you notice anything attached to an ATM which looks out of place, do not touch it, stop the transaction immediately and alert police as well as the bank.”

“Skimming devices can be attached to a cash machine by criminals to enable them to copy information from your bank card so they can remove money from your account.”

Police advise customers to follow the following advice to ensure safe transactions:

n Make sure you hide your pin number while at an ATM as criminals may be watching

n Be aware of your surroundings. If you are talking on a phone or wearing headphones you can’t take in what is going on around you

n Cardholders should also guard their personal identification number (PIN) more carefully and be aware that any form of distraction or assistance while they are using an ATM could mean someone is trying to steal their dispensed money or their card

n If someone tries to distract you and you feel unsure about anything, cancel the ATM transaction

n Do not be complacent – a robbery can occur in crowded environments, not just deserted streets