I can remember when consumers using automated teller machines were most concerned about figuring out how to enter their personal identification numbers. But recent news reports give the impression that ATM users today are more concerned about being robbed.

The reports also seem to suggest that it is the fault of financial institutions that robberies occur at ATM sites.

Missing from much of the news coverage is the fact that consumers have the ability to take control over how, when, and where they use ATMs. Consumers can enhance their personal safety when using ATMs by being aware of their options for gaining access to funds and by using good judgment.

Strict Standards

Financial institutions have been doing their part by adopting stringent procedures for protecting ATM customers.

In California and Nevada, ATMs, by law, must meet strict lighting and visibility standards, and financial institutions are required to give their customers ATM safety information -- which most financial institutions have been doing as a matter of course.

Electronic funds transfer networks like Star System Inc. have been giving institutions important free information about ATM security, including safety tips, brochures for customers, and helpful videotape presentations for branch employee training.

Even so, as recent news reports indicate, such standard safety measures as improved lighting, video surveillance, and audio monitoring devices -- as well as education -- have not quelled some consumers' concerns about safety at the ATM.

Using Good Judgment

While concerns about dealing with money in public are genuine, we need to emphasize how consumers can enhance their personal safety when using ATMs, especially at night. Consumers should exercise good judgment by looking for a well-lighted location that is visible from the street, being aware of the surroundings, and completing transactions in a timely manner.

One benefit of ATMs is the convenience of being able to obtain your own money and make deposits or transfers when you want to. While most people do not actually use ATMs at all hours of the day or night, it is important to most that they have 24-hour-a-day access.

In recent years, growth in the variety of locations where consumers can use their ATM cards has greatly expanded access. Many retailers offer ATMs in their stores.

Furthermore, consumers can use their ATM cards to buy groceries or other goods and get cash back at a number of markets, convenience stores, and fast-food locations.

For a generation weaned on video games and personal computers, ATMs are synonymous with banking. Financial institutions have made major investments in offering this convenient banking service and have made every effort possible to ensure customer safety.

ATMs were designed to provide convenience, not fear.

Mr. Congemi is president of Star System Inc., an electronic funds transfer network based in San Diego.

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