ATM Robberies Are Called Mainly a Publicity Problem

A rash of recent automated teller machine robberies has posed a public relations problem but has caused little financial loss, according to bankers.

During the past few months, criminals have used a variety of methods to try to get cash from the self-service banking machines, including armed robbery of bank workers and tearing ATM units from their moorings.

But despite the high profile of some incidents - one ATM robbery received nationwide attention last week in coverage by CBS News - industry observers said the recent wave of ATM crime was having a relatively small financial impact on the industry.

|Out of Proportion'

"The incidents receiving so much attention are interesting and maybe even a little amusing to a national audience, but their overall importance has been blown a little out of proportion," said Richard P. Yanak, president of the Yankee24 ATM network in Wallington, Conn.

Mr. Yanak said incidents like the $500,000 holdup of an ATM repairman at a Chemical Bank branch in May are the exception rather than the rule in ATM crime. Most ATM robberies have targeted low-volume machines in isolated areas, with a typical take less than $15,000.

Overall, Mr. Yanak estimated the banking industry has lost less than $1 million, and almost all of it has been recouped through insurance.

Educating the Banks

This does not mean there is no room for improvement in ATM security measures. Yankee24 and a number of other ATM switch operators, including the Cash Station in Chicago and Star Systems in San Diego, have initiated an education program for bankers that is aimed at reducing banks' vulnerability to these crimes.

"I'm not sure that any shakeup is necessary, but perhaps we may see some procedural changes as a result of the publicity," said Brenda Yost, a vice president at BankAmerica Corp., San Francisco.

But most bankers and ATM network operators agree the security at most banks has proved relatively effective.

Safety Called Strong

"If you compare the number of actual bank robberies to the number of incidents at ATMs, I think you'll find the machines are an even safer place to have large quantities of cash than the teller window," said Stephen S. Cole, president of the Cash Station ATM network, Chicago.

Most teller machines feature at their core a strongbox or safe that must adhere to strict national standards for hardness and thickness. Even if a thief were able to abscond with an entire ATM, the money it contains would likely be destroyed in the attempts to open the safe, Mr. Cole said.

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