A large majority of automated teller machine users in the Southwest feel secure while operating the devices, a recent study by the Pulse EFT Association has concluded.

A survey of 400 ATM users in five southwestern states indicated that about three-fourths of the region's consumers feel safe using the machines. Only 15% of those surveyed felt threatened when using ATMs.

The survey, and similar studies brewing at other regional networks, comes after recent New York City legislation requiring tough security at ATMs.

Legislation Elsewhere

That law has sent shock waves through the electronic funds transfer industry, spawning similar legislation pending in New Jersey, California, and several other states.

Bankers hope that gathering data on the safety needs of consumer will help them identify the shortcomings of their safety measures and fix the problems before government mandates action.

"There is no current shortage of data about the incidence of ATM crime," said Sean Kennedy, president of the Electronic Funds Transfer Association, a Reston, Va.-based trade group that, like Pulse, is expanding its consumer research.

Lighting Is Appreciated

Consumers in the Pulse survey pointed to a few items that they felt made cash machines more secure. These included proper lighting and visibility into the ATM site. About 14% of consumers indicated that security guards were appropriate at high-risk sites.

In general, these consumers also felt that drive-up ATMs were refer than through-the-wall machines.

While almost one-third of respondents said ATMs were becoming less safe, fewer than 1% of ATM users surveyed lived in households that had experienced an ATM-related robbery in 1991.

Role of the News Media

This supports bankers' arguments that, while ATM-related crimes often make headlines in the news media, they are actually few in number when compared with other types of crime.

"The answers we received from cardholders clearly reflect their awareness of issues involving ATM security," said Stan Paur, president of Houston-based Pulse, which is among the nation's 10 busiest ATM networks in terms of interchange transaction volume.

"However," he said, "the survey also concluded that many banking customers believe financial institutions are doing a reasonable job in protecting their safety."

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