Thieves target ATMs flush with cash during COVID-19
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Attempts to break into ATMs and steal cash more than doubled in the U.S. last year, as some criminals took advantage of civil unrest in cities and others targeted the larger-than-usual amounts of cash stocked in machines when banks closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, ATM security companies said.
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"We saw it all, from hand tools to explosives to vehicle attacks," said Jack Burns, vice president of ATM security for Cardtronics, which operates 285,000 cash machines in 10 countries.
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Attempts to break into automated teller machines jumped about 150% from 2019 to 2020 at ATMs protected by 3SI Security Systems, a Malvern, Pa., company that provides security technology for banks and credit unions. ATM thefts increased more than 50% in 2018 and 2019, based on surveys by the ATM Industry Association. The trade group said it didn't do a 2020 survey due to the pandemic.
Several police departments and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they don't track attempts to steal money from ATMs as a category.
A bank machine can hold a couple-hundred-thousand dollars, industry executives say. Smaller ones at convenience stores often have up to $20,000. During last spring's pandemic lockdown, ATMs that normally held $50,000 might have contained $100,000, said 3SI Marketing Director Lisa Moughan, because banks and credit unions urged customers to use the machines for withdrawals when many branches temporarily closed.
While many theft attempts fail, successes yield $83,000 on average in 3SI's experience, Ms. Moughan said. Police have recovered about 80% of the money stolen from ATMs equipped with the company's technology, she said.
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The most common ATM-related crime is skimming, in which thieves capture data in a card's magnetic stripe with a device attached to the machine, or use hidden cameras to record people keying in their PIN. A growing number of ATMs in Texas have been ripped open using chains hooked to trucks or construction equipment, Mr. Burns of Cardtronics said. Trying to explode the machine is an increasingly common tactic in some parts of the U.S., he said.