Tips on Securing ATMs for Your Customers

February 1, 2013

Last week, Steve Morss blogged about keeping your ATM safe from theft, so this week I want to talk about some additional ways you can help protect your ATM customers. Infamous Depression-era bank robber Willie Sutton reportedly said he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.” He’d have a bonanza today given that ATMs are everywhere: convenience stores, gas stations, hotel lobbies, shopping malls, even laundromats.


While there are no readily available compilations of ATM customer holdups, skimming card data using bogus readers is estimated by Mercator to cost U.S. banks $2.4 billion a year. The average skimming heist from one ATM? $50,000. Not bad, Willie would say.


How safe are your ATM customers from theft? In short, as safe as you can help them to be.


ATMs put their users at risk of potential theft in three ways: classic armed robbery; card skimming; “shoulder-surfing;” and, a most recent criminal twist, the trapping of cash, cards or both. For this, they attach devices to either the ATM card reader or the cash dispenser that retains the card or the cash, leaving the ATM customer thinking the machine has malfunctioned.


Here are some tips to help prevent these kinds of thefts:


1. Locate your ATM(s) in well-lit and, if possible, well-trafficked areas, which criminals tend to avoid. If indoors, especially in a retail area, the ATM should be in view of floor personnel but shielded from view outside the store or retail area. Outdoor areas should be free of shrubbery and architectural screens or dividers. Indoors or outdoors, video surveillance should be installed and visible to both customers and potential criminals.

2. Help your customers be more aware of their surroundings by installing awareness mirrors, so they can detect any suspicious activity behind them, including someone looking over their shoulder to capture their PIN. If using a drive-up ATM, customers should be warned to keep doors locked and windows up, except the driver’s side they’re using. Signage that warns them to count their cash after they leave the vicinity of the ATM can be helpful.

3. Periodically—daily, if possible—check your ATMs for card-skimming and card/cash-trapping devices that thieves attach over an ATM’s reader and cash dispenser. You should also check for fake PIN pad readers that can overlay real ones to gather customer PINs. Customers themselves can check if these devices have been installed by gripping the reader or PIN pad and giving them a pull to see if they’re loose or come off. They should also do the same with the dispenser. Of course, if they find such devices, they should leave immediately and contact the police.


Our Garda Cash Logistics partner Diebold Corporation provides a pocket-size ATM Security Tip card that you can print and share with your customers. If you’re a retailer with an ATM, you can post this card directly to your machine.