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September 22, 2021

Should robbery alarms be mandatory on all ATMs?

For people of a certain generation, the defining ATM burglary moment was when Will took a bullet for Carlton on that watershed episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Okay, there are probably a few more serious examples than that, but the fact remains we’re all exposed when we withdraw cash in a public space.

So we want security at an ATM – and, to a certain degree, we have it. Keypad covers to disguise your PIN; mirrors to see if anyone is lurking behind; dings on bank vestibule doors so you can hear if someone else enters. But is that enough?

Indeed, one of the hot-button issues within the bank security community these days is ATM alarms, which are designed to aid victims facing a stick-up in real-time.

The silent alarms, as they are in effect, seem like a no brainer, but according to one new report, they might be both expensive and useless.

A Federal Trade Commission release notes that ATM alarms – such as alarm buttons or a secret distress PIN code to alert cops you’re getting robbed – are rarely installed on many cash machines.

The reason? Their cost, about $1,500 to retrofit just one ATM with the alarms, is one, but so is their lack of effectiveness.

Apparently, the alarms are largely futile when it comes to actually stopping robberies in progress. Rarely can police respond to an alarm in time when a crook is taking your money right now, and often the security systems only result in false alarms (by one pilot program, a U.S. ATM equipped with an alarm led to 500 false reportings and zero real robbery notifications, according to the Consumerist).

Still, even though there are other security measures you can take – scanning an ATM for pinhole cameras, ensuring the card slot isn’t loose, suggesting the presence of a skimmer, etc. – wouldn’t you just feel better if each ATM had an alarm, if for no other reason than a little deterrence for crooks?

ATM users: what do you think? Should it be mandatory for alarms to be installed on all ATMs?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...