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S. J. DIAMOND

ATM Crimes Spur Calls for Better Security

July 21, 1989|S. J. DIAMOND

The ultimate question is whether banks and other financial institutions have to do anything. A bill requiring special protections for ATM customers foundered in 1986 when its congressional sponsor, Mario Biaggi, foundered in the Wedtech scandal, and comprehensive state laws have suffered similar fates. In California, for example, assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Alhambra), has introduced a bill every year, setting standards for lighting, landscaping, location, and operating hours of ATMs; opposed by the banking industry, it has never passed.

Privately, banks may take responsibility for such crimes, even beyond federal law, which limits customer liability to $50 in unauthorized withdrawals. The banks surveyed by the BAI reported settling 22 of 32 lawsuits filed by victims of ATM crimes of violence. And although they have no legal obligation to customers robbed after leaving ATMs, many big banks quietly pay their claims.

The industry's public stance is tougher, backed by those statistics, such as they are. "Certainly events are going to occur," says Strick, but "the numbers are minuscule. If there were people getting murdered at ATMs every day, we'd have a greater problem and one the industry would have to respond to."

"Every day" shouldn't be necessary: banks could surely devise some aid for customers making forced withdrawals. But those making elective visits can partly protect themselves, by carefully selecting time, place and company. It's just "common sense," says Melnikoff. "If you see someone hanging around, don't use the machine."

Or, until they're safer, don't use them as much. Banks respond more quickly to changes in transaction volume.

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