ATM Smash and Grab

ATM smash and grab

What steps can you take to protect your bank from this growing crime?

By Barry Thompson, CRCM

Four men decided it was time to make some money. One had worked with heavy equipment and located a construction site a half-mile away from the bank. It had exactly what they were looking for — a forklift with no protection at night.

Another member of the team had been stealing cars since he was 16 years old. He stole a Ford F250 one month before, hiding it in a garage. Having been in prison, he knew that law enforcement would be looking for the vehicle closely for the first two weeks after the theft. After that two-week period, other vehicles would be stolen, causing the police to focus on them. The longer you hid the stolen vehicle, the safer it became to use in a robbery.

The decision was made, the plan was simple. The safest time to hit the ATM would be between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. after the bars closed. Driving the stolen truck, they stole the forklift and drove it to the bank and the island ATM. Utilizing the forklift, they easily pulled the ATM from the foundation, placing it into the back of the stolen Ford truck. The entire robbery was over in less than 90 seconds.

When police arrived, they found the forklift and damage to the cement where the ATM had resided. The bank had no cameras located in the parking lot or drive-up area. Only the cameras in the teller service units contained any pictures, and they were not helpful to law enforcement.

The criminals drove to the same place they had hidden the stolen truck. Out of sight, they now had plenty of time to break into the ATM. This is a simple ATM robbery method that has been used countless times in the United States over the last 20 years.

Why target ATMs?

Bankers have to remember that an ATM is really an electronic box with cash inside; who wouldn’t want to steal it? In the early days, criminals tried to break into the ATMs using sledgehammers. The steel plating on the face of the machine defeated the sledgehammers, but the cost to replace plastic keyboards and screens did cause consternation.

Educated thieves use skimmers or jackpotting in the United States; in Europe, gas is used to blow up the ATM. The press and social media haven’t been helpful with these types of attacks. A quick review on Youtube.com can provide you with the amount of money taken at ATM robberies along with methods to attack an ATM in any location.

What locations are targeted by criminals? Bars, convenience stores, bank branches — any place an ATM or ITM is deployed. We have had these attacks in the middle of large malls where the robbers drove through the entry doors directly to the ATM inside, loaded it on the truck and left in a matter of minutes. The closer the ATM is to a customer entry door, the more likely it is to be robbed.   

What techniques do criminals use to steal or rob an ATM?

  1. They steal an SUV or big truck and back it into a store that has an inside ATM.
  2. They steal a tow truck that can either smash through the doors of a building or extend the cable to hook around an ATM.
  3. They have a team that can pick up the ATM to place it in a vehicle after the smash.
  4. They use a forklift or other equipment to boost the ATM from the foundation.

Reasons they are successful:

  1. Many times, to save money, the ATM isn’t bolted to the floor or connected to an alarm system.
  2. There isn’t a seismic alarm on the ATM.
  3. No GPS system is installed.
  4. Criminals cut power to the location that has the ATM. They attack it with a well-thought-out plan, meaning the team can steal the ATM in 30 to 90 seconds.
  5. There is no back-up power source for the alarm system.
  6. They attack between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. with little to no witnesses to the event.
  7. There is a lack of cameras at the parking lot or location of the crime.

Why they are caught?

  1. Normally, it is a gang of men, one of whom can’t help bragging about the crime.
  2. Cameras are everywhere today. A person living near or next to the location likely has home cameras that identify the subjects.
  3. The bank actually bolted the ATM to the floor with the alarm systems turned on.
  4. Bollards have been placed around the island ATM making it harder to grab.
  5. An ex-girlfriend, angered spouse or significant other evens a score by turning them in.
  6. DNA is found that makes it easy to identify the criminals.

What can my bank do?

  1. When possible, bolt the ATM to the floor. Yes, some businesses don’t want to ruin the floor, but damage from a successful or failed attack is more expensive.
  2. Pay to have the alarms in the machine activated and monitored.
  3. On bank premises, be sure you have cameras that are lowered to between five or six feet in the parking lot viewing the ATM. These cameras can pick up people putting on or taking off masks or they can identify other key evidence.
  4. When the bank deploys an ATM at a business, provide awareness education on what steps to take if someone is seen closely surveying the machine. Anyone looking to see if it is anchored to the floor or the cables are going to the wall can signal trouble. Explain you want pictures of that person for your records.
  5. Review how the business is using cameras and determine if they are digital. If not, consider placing your own camera system at the location. If this is a high crime area, the cost will be worth it.
  6. Locate GPS in the machine that can follow the criminals wherever they go.
  7. Remember the four “Ls”: landscaping, lighting, location and locks; they all play a part here. If your bank has tall shrubbery next to entry doors, it provides a place for robbers to hide. It also provides an area to observe how your ATM is installed. Poor lighting makes it easier for an ATM smash and grab as people cannot identify the robbers easily. Is the ATM located in an area with warehouses, high crime or abandoned by people after hours? Rely on alarms, lighting and barriers to the ATM.
  8. Contact your neighbors around the bank location. Ask them to notify you of anyone staking out your bank or paying unusual attention to the ATMs. If they do report something, send them a gift. At Christmas, send them something to thank them for helping you.
  9. Do not locate your ATM next to the customer entry doors at convenience stores, grocery stores or any business where the criminal can easily drive through the entry doors or windows.
  10. Do not locate the ATM next to display windows or a weak wall location.
  11. Be sure to use anchor bolts on all ATM locations, especially those at your island locations. The right bolts can withstand a 10,000-pound attack against the ATM.

Costs after the attack:

One concern very few people discuss is the actual cost of repair after one of these attacks. When one considers replacement of doors, walls and damage to the actual ATM, your costs can exceed $100,000. Depending on your insurance carrier, a couple of these attacks can cause your insurance premium to increase. Plus, the public might view your bank location as too dangerous to use in the future even if the attack was at 3 a.m.

The reality of the situation:

These attacks are happening all over the world. An electronic box with cash is just too tempting a target. Don’t allow yourself to believe that this will never happen here. You will find many bankers now who will tell you it can happen at almost any time, anywhere. Even rural banks are a tempting target as no one is there to watch them. Those who have not taken these suggested steps are just waiting for that 3:30 a.m. call, “We have a real problem here!”

Barry Thompson, C.R.C.M., is managing partner of Thompson Consulting Group LLC. As a regular presenter at TBA educational events, Thompson will be speaking at the November 2020 Security and Risk Management Conference, presented virtually.

ATM ‘smash and grabs’ from an insurance perspective

In the last 90 days, Bankers Insurance Agency has had seven claims for ATM “smash and grabs,” two of which took place inside grocery stores at 3 a.m., according to BIA President Brien O’Connor.

In every case, the culprits had stolen a pickup truck with a tow hitch. They then placed a heavy chain around the machine and had the truck pull it open or off its base.

Without specifically naming a dollar amount stolen (most bankers will know approximately how much an ATM holds), the physical loss of the machine runs between $40,000 and $80,000.

Insurance carriers are asking that bankers do what they can to bolster the physical security around their ATM machines. Some suggestions include adding:

  • More balusters around the machines
  • GPS tracking devices inside the machines
  • Cameras outside and inside the ATMs
  • Alarms with shock/tilt/heat sensors as well as alarms on the doors
  • Thick bars or gates around the machines

If this trend continues, insurance carriers advised BIA that they will be raising the deductibles on ATMs, which today are relatively low.

Bankers Insurance Agency provides all the insurance needs for over 250 banks throughout the Southwest. Bankers having questions about coverages or claims may contact O’Connor at [email protected] or 512-633-7700.