Some owners of automated teller machines are fitting them with a radio- based homing device so police can find them if they are stolen.
Car owners who live in cities with high theft rates have long used similar tracking systems as a security device.
With ATM theft on the rise, machine operators are increasingly concerned.
Attempts to steal ATMs outside bank branches are uncommon, but the growing number of compact, free-standing cash dispensers in convenience stores, supermarkets, and the like have become tempting targets.
These machines are relatively light-sometimes only 200 pounds-and easier to carry off than wall units.
In a crime that ATM experts delicately refer to as "vehicular extraction," thieves smash the back of a pickup into a convenience store to dislodge a machine, then hoist it into the truck and drive off. Experts say up to a dozen such crimes are attempted monthly.
ATX Technologies Inc. of San Antonio, Tex., has begun offering a modified version of the tracking device it sells to auto owners.
"With the reduction of the size of ATM machines, the theft of them is increasing dramatically," said Dennis Voith, vice president of sales at ATX Technologies.
"With the help of this device, we hope to make this task much more difficult in the future."
The device, On-Guard Tracker, emits radio signals whose source is pinpointed with help from global positioning satellites. When a machine is tampered with or stolen, the device sends signals to a response center, which can determine where a machine is and the speed at which it is traveling.
The response center notifies law enforcement officials of the location of the stolen machine.
ATX started shipping the units this summer to Security Corp., a company in Richmond, Va., that monitors security for financial institutions. ATX said it is also talking to ATM manufacturers about broad deployments.
The price of On-Guard Tracker is $800 per ATM, which could erase the profits of some machine deployers. F. Barry Schreiber, a professor of criminal justice at St. Cloud (Minn.) State University and an expert on ATM crimes, said the device is clearly not for everyone.
Convenience stores, which have been particularly plagued by this type of attack, need to balance profitability and security concerns, Mr. Schreiber said. Placing a machine at the back of the store may decrease the transaction volume but could deter theft.
"It's cost versus benefit and the risk of being attacked," Mr. Schreiber said. "I might not want to sink my profitability on this by adding lots of security bells and whistles. But if I'm in an area where a series of supermarket ATM extractions" has taken place, "I sure would think about it."
ATX has yet to see the device be pressed into ATM duty. But it recently reported a dozen successful trackings of stolen automobiles over three months, resulting in 17 arrests.
"We are in the business of catching the criminal," said Jason Johns, national account manager for ATX.
"If you catch one, you are going to prevent others" from committing a crime.