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CBA Publications >> Surveys and Reports >> ATM Crime Survey Report

ATM Crime Survey Report


The development of Automatic Teller Machines is among the most significant banking innovations, allowing banks to expand substantially access to banking services. Where at one time transactions had to be carried out only during banking hours, many can now be conducted through ATMs 24 hours a day. Because ATMs allow financial transactions to be made during hours of darkness, the safety of ATM patrons is a paramount concern of financial institutions.

For more than ten years, the California Bankers Association has periodically surveyed its members on the number of crimes(1) occurring at ATMs in California. These ATM Crime Surveys have provided the industry with useful data on how well it is managing the safe usage of ATMs, particularly those that are accessible at all hours and that are not housed indoors. The surveys also put into perspective the rare, tragic and highly publicized crimes occurring at ATMs.

The CBA survey for 1992 revealed a moderate increase in the rate of ATM crime, with one ATM crime occurring for every 1.2 million transactions compared with one every 1.9 million transactions in 1986. But 1992 was also the year that overall crime in the state peaked, when Los Angeles led the way (according to Los Angeles Police Department records) with 177,557 robberies, burglaries, auto thefts, carjackings and homicides. By contrast, the LAPD reported 152 ATM crimes in the same.

1995 sample and results

CBA's ATM Crime Survey was conducted again for 1995 and included responses from 132 commercial banks, comprising an estimated 55 percent of all ATMs in California and an estimated 75 percent of bank ATMs. Not included in the sample are ATMs not owned or operated by commercial banks, such as those of savings and loans and credit unions. The responses of those banks that did not report the number of ATM transactions processed during 1995 were ignored for purposes of calculating the ratio of transactions per ATM crime, since the ratio cannot be correctly derived without incorporating both figures. The excluded banks accounted for only a total of 9 ATM crimes and all were small banks primarily in the $100 million to $250 million asset range. All responses were included in computing the total number of ATM crimes among the sample banks.

The results of the 1995 survey reinforced once again that the chances of being an ATM crime victim are nearly as slim as winning the California lottery. The rate of ATM crime in 1995 dropped precipitously to a statewide average of one every 2.5 million transactions, less than one half of the 1992 rate. Although the 1992 and 1995 surveys involved roughly the same number of ATMs (6,677 and 6,970, respectively), the number of ATM crimes reported by respondent banks in 1995 was only 261, compared with 499 in 1992, a drop of more than 47%.


The industry's success in thwarting ATM crime reflects the paramount consideration given by banks to security aspects of ATM use. Bank security personnel will typically perform a site survey describing the neighborhood, traffic patterns, accessibility, and other factors. Local law enforcement agencies are consulted for crime statistics and recommendations. An ATM will not be placed at any location that subjects customers to an unreasonable risk of crime.

After an ATM is opened, banks are required to comply with the provisions of a statewide law commonly known as AB244. This law, which came into effect July 1, 1993, formalized security measures for all ATM owners and operators. The CBA believes the dramatic decrease in ATM crimes is attributable in part to this CBA-supported state law. Not surprisingly, AB244 has been the model for several other states interested in implementing ATM legislation, such as Nevada and Oregon.

AB244 requires ATM owners to meet lighting, landscaping and location standards at ATM locations. The law also formalizes the requirement to consider the incidence of crimes occurring in the immediate neighborhood where the ATM is located. Below is a summary of these standards.

Lighting: All ATMs operating during hours of darkness must be adequately lighted. The hours of darkness are defined as the period beginning 30 minutes after sunset and ending 30 minutes before sunrise. The law contains specific lighting standards measured in candlefoot power at specified distances from the ATM.

Landscaping, vegetation, etc: ATM owners must consider the overall layout of the ATM site, of the access area, and of parking areas, examining features such as landscaping, architectural barriers, vegetation, and obstructions to visibility. These measures are intended to ensure an ATM user is not susceptible to robbers lying in wait or unreasonably obstructed from view by passersby.

Incidence of crime: An integral part of the security review of an ATM is an assessment of the incidence of crime in the immediate neighborhood where the ATM is located. An assessment may be made upon the opening of an ATM, when an incident occurs at or near an ATM, and periodically according to need.

ATM safety information: ATM owners are required to furnish to customers, upon issuance of an ATM card, information detailing basic safety precautions.

Additional measures

Establishing statewide standards is an important part of ensuring safe ATM use. But crime affects all people and all businesses, and no amount of security measures can entirely prevent crimes from occurring. Still, banks have strived and continue to strive to ensure ATM safety by taking steps well beyond the requirements of AB244.

Cameras, etc. Although AB244 does not require it, many ATM owners have installed cameras at ATMs that are trained in front of the ATM to further discourage crime as well as abuse. Mirrors are commonly installed to provide ATM customers with a rear view, a useful device not just to catch sight of attackers, but to prevent "shoulder surfing," a common means of compromising personal identification numbers. In high risk areas, some banks use additional cameras (equipped with CCTV and tape) trained towards the access areas and parking areas near the ATM. And when necessary, a bank may move an ATM from its existing location (for instance, to an indoor location or from the back of a building to the front) in order to improve visibility and thus promote safe usage.

Curbing hours of operation. Bank security personnel typically make a site assessment soon after an incident has occurred. Careful consideration is given to the type of crime, whether it was random or likely to be repeated, and when it is most likely to occur. Where the level or seriousness of crime occurring at an ATM or in the immediate neighborhood warrants it, banks typically curbed the hours during which the ATM may be used. The hours during which an ATM is closed depends on the outcome of the site or incident assessment. The most important factors relate to the crime patterns in the immediate neighborhood, as reported by law enforcement, and any other factors that place ATM customers at unreasonable risk.

Customer awareness. The responsibility to ensure safe usage of ATMs is not just a bank obligation. Customers must also take reasonable measures to avoid being victims of crime, such as bringing a companion when using an ATM in remote areas at night, maintaining vigilance, and not establishing a routine such as going to the same ATM at the same time or times every day. To this end, banks provide additional safety information to their customers in the form of statement stuffers, lists of safety tips on the ATMs, and brochures beyond the information required to be furnished pursuant to AB244.

Banks enlist customers' help another way by offering rewards for information leading to the arrest of wrongdoers. Banks offer rewards individually or through a CBA-sponsored confidential program called WeTip, which has been highly successful in generating information to law enforcement agencies.

Finally, banks have participated in ATM safety campaigns aimed at promoting awareness of ATM safety. Elements of the program include public safety announcements, distribution of safety videos and flyers, and safety presentations.

1. Defined as a robbery, attempted robbery, or other crime involving the property or safety of a person using an ATM


    April 6, 1998

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