Can anything be done about robberies at the nation’s 400,000 ATMs? Joseph Zingher, a lawyer and inventor from Illinois, has patented a system that he says would give people a way to safely alert police when they’re being robbed and ordered to make ATM withdrawals, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says. The system would allow the user to enter the regular PIN number backward, which would dispense the money and look to the robber like a normal transaction – but would silently alert police to the robbery in progress.
The point isn’t to stop the theft but to ensure that the police can quickly pursue the robber. “If they’re taking you to your ATM to get money that ATM may be your only chance to call for help,” said Zingher, 47, of the Chicago area. The banking industry rejects the idea, saying that the stress of being robbed could lead to hesitation or botched withdrawal attempts as the customer tries to tap in the reverse-PIN, perhaps prompting more violence from the robber. The industry has estimated that there are just 3,000 to 4,000 ATM holdups a year, but no one can prove or disprove those low ATM crime figures, because they’re lumped in with all other types of bank robberies when the FBI compiles its annual data. It’s possible that a large part of the substantial increase in bank robberies is due to ATM robberies, said criminologist Scott Decker of the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Decker co-wrote the book “Armed Robbers in Action,” in which numerous convicted bank robbers were interviewed about their techniques. “Almost all of them took us to ATMs,” said Decker.