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In every ATM I've seen, the card is "swallowed" by the machine, and returned at one point or another (or not, if you type the wrong PIN 3 times or whatever). This leads to people forgetting the card, as exemplified in Why don't ATMs give you cash before your card?

However, many other machines - vending machines, auto-parking, gas pumps, supermarket auto-checkouts, etc. - only require that you swipe the card. This looks better to me - the card never leaves your hand, and you're much less likely to forget it.

Why this difference between ATMs and other machines? Is it just so the ATM can swallow your card if it doesn't like you or your PIN attempts?

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In the UK, and I believe much of Europe, we have a system called 'Chip and Pin'. Today, it is pretty much impossible to use the old 'swipe and sign' method of purchase, and your card remains in the terminal until your transaction is authorised. –  Brendon May 25 '13 at 13:50
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The bank (and the machine) reserves the right not to give you the card back. For example, if it's known to be stolen or you type the PIN in wrong 3 times. So by taking the card in, this puts the ATM in control of that. Keeping the card would not be such a good idea at a vending machine or supermarket checkout for example! –  Roger Attrill May 25 '13 at 15:04
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@RogerAttrill Many payment gateways actually send through a status code that explicitly requests the card be retained for security reasons in situations like a supermarket checkout (e.g. response code 34 from eWAY). –  Kit Grose May 26 '13 at 23:58
    
@KitGrose I was going to mention that cards can be retained by staff (as opposed to by the machine itself) in supermarkets, but wasn't sure whether my information was up to date or even true in the first place. So - thanks for the link! :-) –  Roger Attrill May 27 '13 at 16:25
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In Australia all contemporary cards (that I know of) have both a chip and a PIN, but unlike in the UK we don't use the term "chip and pin". Some people might call them smart cards but mostly we see them as just one more in a long line of variations since such cards first appeared. –  hippietrail May 28 '13 at 23:40

7 Answers 7

up vote 48 down vote accepted

By holding onto the card, the user is clearly informed that their transaction is not yet complete. If the card was given back before any transaction, the user may be uncertain as to whether they are still authenticated. Giving back a physical piece of identity makes it absolutely clear that you have 'logged out'.

There is a perceived and an actual security risk involved. Suppose for example you 'sign in' to your account, and the machine gives back your card immediately. You may withdraw £100, and when prompted 'Do you wish to perform another transaction?' you may accidentally select 'Yes' rather than 'No', particularly if you do not understand the language the machine is using. Walking away from the machine at this point would obviously be a huge security risk.

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Note that most (if not all) ATMs have a time out period - if you don't press anything for XX seconds, they will reset to their default state (starting screen). –  Anderson May 28 '13 at 21:49
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Just a side note: when you opt to perform a second transaction, most, if not all, ATMs now require you to enter your PIN again. This hasn't always been the case. I don't remember explicitly seeing this as a requirement from the PCI guidelines, but its an industry standard. –  justnS May 29 '13 at 19:39
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All the ATMs I use take in the card and return it immediately, and I think require the pin each time you transact. I think the risk of accidentally staying signed in (especially given timeout) is less than accidentally leaving your card behind, which is easier if the machine keeps your card. –  Dandre Allison May 31 '13 at 2:15
    
@DandreAllison that might be regional. All ATMs I've used in the last decade or more keep the card until the transaction is complete, then return it just before the slot opens where you can take out your withdrawn money (thus trying to make sure you don't forget the card, as you can't get to the money while the card is in the slot). –  jwenting May 31 '13 at 5:48
    
@jwenting I don't doubt it changes based on where you are, or even what ATM provider you use. I was commenting on the risk. Also noting that if the machine returns the card immediately, why actually take it from me increasing likelihood of forgetting? Not giving you the money before you take the card is a forcing function, which sounds useful. I wonder what happens if your transaction(s) weren't to withdraw money (which is probably the common transaction, speculation)? –  Dandre Allison May 31 '13 at 16:19

For several years, ATMs in larger cities such as New York, do not swallow the card. You either just swipe, or it spits it out immediately and then you perform your transaction. These ATMs also often have vestibules that require you to swipe your card to gain access. This makes it harder to gain access to the ATMs, and if for some reason you need to leave quickly, you can do so with your card in hand.

This behavior seems to be configurable on a machine-by-machine basis, as I have seen machines across all different banks behaving like this.

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In addition to the reasons @Brendon mentioned in their answer:

The "swallow" machines are much less error prone. With the swipe types it's possible to orient the card in the wrong direction in multiple ways. It's possible to swipe too slow for the card to be read, etc.

With the "swallow" machines the card can only be entered in the correct orientation.

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Can't say that the "swallow" machines are easy - I often can't get the card in just the right angle, etc. –  Jonathan May 26 '13 at 20:21
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Yeah. I always feel uncomfortable when I have to swipe a card/ticket. –  unor May 31 '13 at 22:45

In San Francisco Bank of America ATM's take the card but then return it immediately. You put in your pin to make transaction and if you need a second transaction you need to put in your pin again but not the card.

I assumed every ATM worked that way now for the reason you suggest of not forgetting the card.

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there's no vestibule or inner room you need the card to enter at these. They are in public space on street corners outside. The ATM's used to take the card for the whole time about a year ago. –  user31192 May 29 '13 at 2:24
    
I think the other reason they switched to returning the card immediately was because when people forget the card using the old take and hold system it's easy for the next person in line to access their account, so the take and return immediately practice reduced money theft. –  user31192 May 29 '13 at 2:25

In most ATMs in Brazil and in some ATMs en Chile you are actually required to extract your card of the slot manually before entering your PIN or making any transaction. You only can do one transaction at a time, so there's never risk that you leave your account "open".

If a card needs to be blocked (for instance, after multiple failed attempts) the block happens at the card ID level, rather than just retaining it, which would cause trouble for other users. Besides reducing forgotten cards (and the cost associated in blocking and renewing them), this also avoids people forcing ATMs trying to extract trapped cards, and saves man-hours in technicians having to go open ATMs to do the same thing.

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In my country (Argentina) for several years we are seeing ATMs that require one to insert the card in a slot and leave it there, but the card is never swallowed (normally, I never tried to enter many wrong PINs). At any moment you see the card and it seems possible to pull it and run away.
When you tell the ATM that you don't want to do anything more then the card slot and the screen start blinking like crazy with a don't forget your card message.

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you're obviously talking about the default Banelco network, but Itau banks have their own machines with a different system –  Devin Sep 28 at 1:48
  1. It's for security - if your card was stolen and the thief keys in a bad pin three times, the machine will terminate the transaction and will not return the card - your account will be suspended and you'll need to speak to the bank to get it fixed.

  2. It's for security (2) - if you are being threatened by a mugger to withdraw your money, you can comply to the muggers demands but key in the wrong pin three times. The machine will terminate the transaction and will not return the card - your account will be suspended and you'll need to speak to the bank to get it fixed.

  3. It's for security (3) - You can do multiple transactions as long as your card is still in the machine. When your card is returned to you, it means your transaction is complete and no further transactions is possible without reinserting the card. You'll be given your cash or your print out and that's it.

  4. It's for financial reasons - If your account is suspended or has specific blocks placed on it, the ATM will not return your card if you insert it - this will require you to go to the bank and solve the problem with your account.

  5. It's for banking reasons - Maybe the bank wants to force you to upgrade to their newer card model, so they don't return your old. You'll have to call the bank and request for a replacement.

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