ATM Theft Numbers Continue to Climb After Surpassing Historic Highs

By Jim Sams | August 9, 2022

The number of automated teller machine thefts in the United States increased another 10% in 2021 after surging during the previous year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The FBI’s latest Bank Crime Statistics report shows there were 254 thefts from ATMs last year, up from 229 in 2020. Before then, the number of ATM thefts was only a fraction of that. The FBI reported only 31 ATM thefts in 2019, 74 in 2018, 50 in 2017 and 45 in 2016.

Tracey Santor, bond project manager for Travelers, said criminals continue to use stolen equipment in smash-and-grab ATM thefts. She said lately thieves are often using a crow bar to pry the cover off of an ATM machine and a hook and chain to yank the apparatus out of the wall it is attached to. Typically the criminals steal a high-powered truck to accomplish the task.

“It takes three minutes to do this,” Santor said during an interview the Claims Journal. “Usually the police find the truck a mile away.”

Santor said ATMs at neighborhood banks typically carry $40,000 in cash, but as much as $250,000 can be loaded into machines located in major metropolitan areas.

Travelers reported a nearly 90% increase in claims related to ATM theft from 2020 to 2021, and a nearly 65% increase in the costs of claims from 2020 to 2021.

Santor said the number of ATM theft claims tripled from 2019 to 2020, so the jump in the number of claims last year amounts to a 600% increase from the level of claims seen in 2019.

Santor said in 2020 and 2021, the skyrocketing ATM theft numbers were linked to specific metropolitan areas, such as a widely reported crime spree in Houston. This year, she said, the crime has spread across the country.

Travelers suggests that financial institutions take these steps to protect ATMs:

  • Properly secure the ATM cabinet to the wall to prevent forced entry, secure the ATM to both the floor and walls and harden ATM units by selected rugged enclosure cabinetry.
  • Install barriers around the machine; install multiple surveillance cameras with motion sensors; and post signs warning of security measures.
  • Install monitored alarm systems; upgrade existing alarm systems to include GPS tracking; and insert dye packets in cash boxes.
  • Remove or relocate ATMs from areas that are not readily viewable by the public if they aren’t located within a controlled space; place ATMs that are within buildings away from doorways or exterior walls; maintain adequate lighting surrounding the ATM; and remove bushes, landscaping, signs or other features that reduce public visibility.

Curiously, while the number of ATM thefts has increased, the number of bank crimes overall has decreased dramatically, the FBI statistics show. The total number of bank crimes in 2021 was 1,788, down from 2,440 in 2019 and 3,033 in 2018.

3SI, a Malvern, Pennsylvania company that provides ATM security services, keeps its own records on ATM thefts. The company said there was a 148% increase in ATM thefts and fraud globally from 2019 to 2020. The number increased again in 2021 and so far this year the number of ATM thefts is 165% greater than 2019 levels, according to a blog post by David Dixon, vice president of financial sales. The average amount stolen is $81,000, according to 3SI.

“Despite the astonishing numbers associated with explosions, smash-and-grabs, and other cash grabs, there is a far more troubling trend,” he wrote. “Criminals are getting bolder, looking for additional points of vulnerability and have begun targeting technicians doing maintenance and filling the ATM with cash ─ where the costs are far more than money and equipment, but human life.”

The robbery of an ATM technician in Nashville, Tennessee in June attracted widespread media attention, mostly because one of the gang members arrested for the crime had released a rap video on YouTube in which he brags about robbing ATMs.

Ladesion Riley, 30, who calls himself “213 Jugg god, sings about having thousands of dollars in the car and praying to make it home without being stopped by police, according to a report by the New York Post. “Jugging” is a slang term for following unsuspecting victims before robbing them.

The Nashville heist resulted in the recovery of the money and the arrest of Riley and three others. Other ATM technician robberies have led to more tragic results.

Dixon, citing press reports, said an armored carrier employee was shot and killed in New Orleans in July 2021 while servicing a drive-thru ATMs. This May, two gunmen ambushed an armored car in Houston and shot a technician who was loading cartridges of cash into an ATM.

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