ATM crimes grab headlines, but no one studies frequency
By: The Associated Press
The Messenger 11.19.07
By RON WORD
Associated Press Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — An off-duty Orlando police officer is gunned down after withdrawing money from an automated teller machine. Two armored truck guards are shot to death in Northeast Philadelphia while servicing a bank ATM. A retired couple is accosted in their Jacksonville home and then forced to reveal their ATM numbers before being buried alive.
These examples point out that the neighborhood ATM, a fixture of modern society, can be a place of violence and death. How big a problem are robbery and murder and their connection to automated teller machines? It seems either no one knows or no one is telling.
The banking and ATM industries acknowledge that crimes occur, but they insist that the numbers are so small, they are insignificant. They also say that no one keeps a tally of the number of violent attacks at these cash machines: not the FBI, not the police and not the banking industry.
“This (an ATM) is a very fertile place for somebody to be robbed,” said Rob T. Guerette, a professor at Florida International University, who has researched ATM crimes and co-authored a study with Rutgers University Professor Ronald V. Clarke.
Guerette describes the easy pickings at an ATM as somewhat akin to lions waiting at an African watering hole for the gazelles and zebras to come by.
But Doug Johnson, a spokesman for the banking group, said no new figures exist on violence at ATMs. The last statistics were compiled 20 years ago, when the rate was about one crime for every 2 million transactions. There are more than 10 billion transactions a year at U.S. ATMs.
“While the prevalence of crime has remained low in relation to the number of transactions, the sheer number of transactions, and the opportunities for robbery and other crimes that they present, has meant that ATM crime is no longer rare,” the 2003 study by Guerette and Clarke reported.
Michael S. Scott, who wrote “Robbery at Automated Teller Machines,” a guide for the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, believes ATM-related crime has gone down since he published his first research in 2001.
Scott, a professor at the Uni-versity of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, is the former chief of police in Lauderhill, Fla.
“The best one can conclude is that the overall rate of ATM-related crime is somewhere between one per million or one per 3.5 million transactions, suggesting that such crime is relatively rare,” Scott said.
Scott’s study revealed that most ATM robberies are committed by a lone offender against a lone victim and most occur between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. But Mike Lee, international director of the ATM Industry Association, said the hour between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. is the peak hour for transactions and ATM crime.
Most of the crimes involve a robbery after someone has made an ATM withdrawal. The average loss is between $100 and $200. In about 15 percent of the cases, victims were injured, Scott said.
That was the case with off-duty Orlando Police Officer Alfred L. Gordon who was shot and killed shortly before 1 a.m. Oct. 4 after he had withdrawn money from an ATM and was walking back to his car.
Two teenagers have been indicted by an Orange County grand jury on charges of first-degree murder and attempted robbery with a firearm.
In Jacksonville, a retired couple Carol and Reggie Summoner, both 61, were kidnapped and robbed in 2005. They were forced to give up their ATM numbers before being buried alive in rural southeast Georgia.
The killers went on a spending spree from Jacksonville to Charleston, S.C., draining the Summoner’s bank accounts using their stolen ATM cards. Two defendants have been convicted and are awaiting the decision whether they will be sentenced to death or life in prison. Another has already been sentenced to die and a fourth defendant has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
In other cases, people who service ATM machines are the victims of violence.
In early October, two armored truck guards were shot to death in Northeast Philadelphia while servicing an ATM at a bank. William Widmaier, 65, and Joseph Alullo, 54, were both retired Philadelphia police officers. A suspect was arrested.
Other ATM crimes occur when the offender forces the victim to go to an ATM to withdraw cash, takes the victim’s ATM card and forces the victim to reveal their personal identification number or robs the victim of other valuables at the ATM, including jewelry and wallets. Sometimes the offender follows someone who had just withdrawn cash from an ATM and robs them away from the machine, Scott said.
Lana Harmelink, international director of operations for the ATM Industry Association, said 90 percent of all ATM forced withdrawals did not originate at the ATM. The crimes originated as home invasions, carjackings and abductions, where victims were forced to go to the ATM to withdraw money.
“We are initiating legislation yearly in high traffic states to increase penalties related to ATM crimes, to make this as an unattractive crime as it can be.”
As a result of ATM robberies, some locales, including Florida, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Illinois and New Jersey, have imposed rules governing the placement and security of ATMs.
Scott said placement, lighting, landscaping and security at ATMs, some of it mandated by state laws and local regulations, have increased since the machines were first introduced in the mid-1960s.
“The original ATMs were in very isolated places, somewhat removed from passing vehicle traffic, in alleyways or on the sides of banks,” Scott said.
“As long as there has been money, there is a risk of armed robbery,” Scott said. “Have they become safer? Most of the evidence would suggest they have.”
One of the reasons for reduction is placing more ATMs indoors, in such locations as convenience stores, groceries and even police stations, such as Anne Arundel County, Md. High-traffic locations tends to scare off potential robbers, Scott said.
Many ideas have been introduced to make ATM’s safer, including secure vestibules, private security guards, television cameras, panic buttons and even codes to notify authorities about crimes. Many of those, however, are very expensive and offer little or no more security, Scott said.
“Wherever there is cash, there is the potential for crime and the ATM is no exception,” Lee said in an e-mail. “Only a tiny fraction of criminal incidents occur at ATMs in comparison to the huge volume of usage at the more than 1.5 million ATMs worldwide.”
On the Net:
ATM Industry Association: http://atmia.com
American Bankers Association: http://www.aba.com
Community Oriented Policing Services: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov