ATM Robbery: How Common Is It?

Although ATM robbery has drastically increased in recent years, it’s still relatively rare when you consider the large number of ATM machines in operation. However, there are many precautions you can take to protect yourself and your business from theft, vandalism, and loss.

How Common is ATM Robbery?

ATM robbery used to be a lot less common. However, it’s no surprise that in light of Covid-19 and other instances of civil and economic unrest, crime in general has increased. More people are becoming more desperate and criminals are becoming more bold. 

While the number of ATM thefts reported by the FBI between 2016 and 2019 were under 50, they climbed to 254 in 2021. However, the skyrocketing ATM thefts are linked to major metropolitan areas, and you have to consider that bank ATMs are included in these numbers. 

Bank ATMs can hold as little as $40,000 and as much as $250,000. So they are more worth the effort and the risk involved. On the other hand, bank ATMs are also well-monitored. This could push criminals to try their luck at independent ATM machines that might have less security. 

Therefore, it’s important that you take necessary steps to prevent ATM robbery and other ATM crimes that could arise. Fortunately, there are actions you can take that deter criminals altogether. Keep in mind, though, that certain locations and situations require different security measures. So think about your specific location and needs while making security decisions.

ATM Crimes

ATM crimes can present themselves in a number of ways. First of all, there is a slight distinction between ATM robbery and ATM theft. ATM robbery implies that cash is stolen while ATM theft suggests removal of the entire machine.

ATM Theft 

Some pretty drastic tactics can be involved in ATM theft. You might have heard of criminals using 

  • crowbars to pry off ATM covers (also known as “smash and grabs” and also known to look a lot less neat and organized than a simple crowbar pry….).
  • hook, chain, and high-powered trucks to yank ATM machines out of walls.
  • explosives to breach or dislodge ATM machines.

The bright side in all of this is that these situations typically don’t directly threaten human victims. Theft is between the criminal and the machine. Robberies, however, get a little more personal.

ATM Robberies

ATM robbery is scary because it could happen to anyone. You or your vaulter could be robbed while loading or unloading the machine. Or your customers could be robbed while making withdrawals. The employees of the business where your ATM is located could be pressured to access the ATM machine. 

While there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself and your employees or partners from ATM robbery, there are some tips for ATM customers as well.

For example, most ATM robberies occur at night (between the hours of 12am and 4am). Therefore, try to make your withdrawals from a well-lit location in plain view of the public if you need to make a withdrawal in the dark. Most ATM robberies also involve one offender and one victim. So, there is safety in numbers, even at the ATM. 

Additionally, don’t count or carry your withdrawal out in the open. Quickly stash it and retrieve it in a secure location. Finally, don’t risk your life for a few hundred dollars. You might be strapped, but trust us, your life is worth more, so don’t try to fight or apprehend a robber to get your cash back!

Vandalism and Fraud

In addition to stealing ATM machines and vaulted or withdrawn cash, criminals can also launch electronic attacks. This is why it’s important to regularly check your machine for vandalism. 

While “shoulder surfers” can glean a customers’ PIN numbers by standing a little too close to them, hackers typically mess with the machine itself to access this sensitive information. For example, pinhole cameras, fake fronts, skimmers and shimmers, counterfeit PIN pads, and Lebanese Loops can be installed on ATM machines and be almost undetectable to the untrained (or unaware) eye.

Fortunately, if you know what to look for, you can see a pinhole camera, feel a fake front, and see signs of skimmers. On the other hand, you might not notice a logical attack.

A logical attack involves access to the mainboard or other electronics of an ATM machine to gain control or cause it to malfunction. This could allow a criminal to gain access to ATM cash via seemingly legitimate withdrawal processes.

Keep reading to find out what you can do to combat both physical and local attacks.

How To Prevent ATM Crime

To minimize the risk of crime involving your ATM machine, you’ll want to predict vulnerabilities and set up barriers. Make things difficult for criminals. Successful attacks can take only three minutes. Attackers aren’t going to want to spend a lot of time at your machine, so if they run into obstacles, they are more likely to move on or target a more vulnerable location.

Keep Eyes on Your Machine as Much as Possible

The first thing you want to do is be strategic with your placement. This is sometimes easier to do with indoor locations as you have four walls to work within. If your machine is outdoors, your options might be limited. However, make sure the area is well-lit and in plain view of witnesses such as cameras, high-traffic streets, or locations that are open late or 24 hours.

Don’t Keep the Machine Loaded After Hours

Second, treat your machine like a cash register if you can. Unload the machine as part of the closing process. If you place your machine where it can be seen from a door or window after hours, leave the ATM door open after vaulting. There’s no need to break into a machine that’s visibly empty.

Create Obstacles

Third, make your machine difficult to get to or access. Keep the front and path leading to your machine clear for customers, of course, but bolt your machine to the ground when possible and try to arrange shelves or other furniture alongside the machine. 

Minimizing access points helps prevent physical as well as logical attacks. You don’t want someone to be able to get into the electrical system through a panel of your machine and cause it to malfunction in the hacker’s favor. Consider the top of your machine as a potential ingress point as well. You can fill the seams or create an internal barrier between the case and the critical electrical components to protect them.

Remember, the goal is to create barriers. Criminals won’t spend long trying to overcome obstacles. 

Regularly Update Software

Outdated software makes logical attacks easier for hackers. Updates typically include modern safeguards. Attackers will be able to identify outdated software, so make sure you keep it up-to-date.

Work with People You Trust

Unfortunately, theft can happen internally, too. Make sure you trust the location owner, employees, and third parties. Limit who has access to your machine; the less the better.

Check Your Machine Frequently

Unattended, low-traffic ATM machines are more likely to be targeted. Therefore, non-bank ATMs typically have a greater risk of being tampered with. Each time you visit your machine, run your hand over the body. Look for loose, bulky, or foreign parts. Anything unusual could indicate that your machine has been tampered with, putting your customers at risk of fraud.

Use GPS Trackers

GPS tracking is more likely to help you after the event of an attack rather than preventing one. These devices won’t be visible, so if a robber is successful, you or the police will be more likely to apprehend the culprit and recover your assets.

Invest in ATM Insurance

The only thing insurance will prevent is worry. Investing in ATM insurance can give you peace of mind knowing that you are protected financially in a worst case scenario. Having insurance will hopefully encourage you to let your assets go if you are victimized and have to fight the urge to struggle with an attacker.

Should Vaulters Be Armed?

We do not recommend that you arm yourself when loading or unloading your machine. One of the biggest problems with this is that if you do end up using your weapon, there will be more consequences and complications. There are other, safer precautions you can take to protect yourself. 

First of all, don’t vault your machine at night. This is when criminals are the most active and when there will be less witnesses and natural protection. Furthermore, don’t stick to a regular, predictable vaulting schedule. You don’t want to give someone the opportunity to plan a robbery.

Make sure there is surveillance. You can install your own cameras or just be sure you place your machine in line with the cameras of your location or surrounding locations. To help deter criminals, consider putting a sign up that advertises that the machine is under video surveillance.

Also be aware of who is around when you vault. If your machine is indoors, make sure a manager or employee is around while you vault rather than disappearing to the back. You can vault after hours as well to minimize the level of foot traffic while you are vulnerable. If you vault after hours, it’s best to do so away from windows or points of ingress where passersby can see your activity.

If you still feel unsure, and if you do live in a major metropolitan area, you might see if you can arrange for an armed officer to accompany you to your drops. Again, we don’t recommend that you take the law into your own hands. Smart decisions are your first line of defense.

Be Proactive Against ATM Robbery

This information about ATM robbery isn’t meant to scare you. On the contrary, it’s meant to empower you. The more you know, the more prepared you will be, and the more confident you will feel. 

Although ATM crime has risen in the past couple of years, crime in general has risen, so it isn’t unexpected. The number of reported incidents is still minor compared to the number of ATMs in operation, and bank ATMs are frequently targeted because larger vaults equal bigger payouts. 

In our many years of experience, we have never personally heard of an independent ATM deployer getting held up or mugged. And, being in the ATM business, that’s saying something!

Still have questions? Contact us today!

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