A Look Inside the Minds of ATM Attackers


Worldwide there are over 3 million active ATMs, according to research by ATMIA. The availability of easy cash access without human interaction makes cash machines attractive to consumers but also makes ATMs a target for criminals.

A new report, Offences Involving ATMs: Insights into How Offenders See ATMs as Targets, offers the industry a unique look at various ATM attacks from the perspective of the criminal. Leading UK criminologist Professor Martin Gill and his research team studied and interviewed eight ATM offenders, six of whom were involved in some sort of physical attack, and two who used the ATM as a facilitator of a crime, in order to help financial institutions and independent ATM deployers (IADs) better protect their terminals.

Staying Ahead of Attacks

ATMs can be compromised in a variety of ways, including physical attacks and vandalism, robbery of cash couriers and consumers, theft of personal data and fraudulent transactions. Knowing how criminals search for targets allows banks, credit unions and IADs to fine-tune their preventative measures to outwit criminals.

One offender who participated in the study had a history of installing security-related products and admitted the appeal of the smash-and-grab attack was tied directly to lack of security surrounding the terminal. Plus, the non-vaulted, unmoored ATM was placed near a window storefront. It was an appealing target due to the physical location as well as the fact the terminal itself lacked obvious security defenses, such as video cameras, alarms, sufficient lighting, an anchor kit and any kind of tracking mechanism on the cabinet or cassettes. The largely unprotected ATM had been installed in a risky place without much thought to its vulnerability.

Avoiding Victimization

In another case outlined in the ATMIA report, the offender interviewed said he would stake out an ATM and target the users, not the terminal itself – looking for a certain type of ATM customer, primarily easily distracted teenage girls withdrawing money on a Friday. The criminal moved locations and always sought out ATMs without security cameras and terminals that made a loud noise or beeped as cash was dispensed. The sounds associated with the cash dispensing alerted the criminal and allowed him to stand far enough away to seemingly pose no risk.

Evaluating Criminal Behavior

By understanding how ATM criminals think, the industry can strengthen its defenses by outthinking the criminal.

This unique criminological report evaluates the main types of attacks on ATMs and offers insight into how ATM attackers choose their targets ‒ in order to help ATM deployers more effectively prevent ATM crime. Translating offender behavior into effective security measures are still an evolving practice; however, the firsthand accounts of real criminals who have targeted ATMs offers valuable insights into how ATM owners can protect their machines against theft and fraud.

The full report can be purchased by ATMIA members for just for $125 USD. The non-member price is $600 USD. Click here for more information or to download it.


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