ATM Smash-and-Grabs Are on the Rise

Police say the crimes are initiation rites for would-be gang members.

July 15, 2021

ATM Location

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Texas has seen a rash of nighttime thefts of automated teller machines (ATMs) by organized teams that pry and pull the machines off of their foundations, force them open, then make off with the cash. Security experts say ATM smash-and-grabs are increasing in other states, reports

Last year, Travelers insurance registered a 220% bump in claims for ATM theft damage in 2020 over 2019, NACS Daily reported in February.

There were at least 139 attacks against the Texas Bankers Association member ATMs during the fiscal year ended November 2020. FBI officials in Houston have made more than 50 arrests of people suspected of being part of organized crime rings that target ATMs.

Based on surveillance camera footage, fraud investigators say the perpetrators follow the same pattern: The thieves strike during the early morning hours with a stolen truck or tractor; use a crowbar to pry open the ATM’s front cover and attach chains to remove the safe door, exposing the canisters of cash inside. The process takes five minutes or less.

According to Tracey Santor, bond product manager for Travelers insurance company, investigators have learned that the smash-and-grabs are used as an initiation for would-be gang members.

“One of the things they found out during the arrest was the people wanting to be in the gang were told they had to bring them $250,000 within a week,” Santor told KrebsonSecurity. “And they were given instructions on how to do it. I’ve also heard of cases where the perpetrators put construction cones around the ATM, so it looks to anyone passing by that they’re legitimately doing construction at the site.”

In the 52 weeks ended June 2021, Travelers saw a 257% increase in the number of insurance claims related to ATM smash-and-grabs. That also includes claims where attackers crash a stolen car into a convenience store, and then load the store’s ATM into the vehicle and flee.

Cash losses often exceed $200,000, and replacing destroyed ATMs and related damage can take weeks. Newer model ATMs can cost $80,000 or more.

In January, Texas lawmakers introduced legislation that would make destroying an ATM a third-degree felony offense.

The Texas Bankers Association report, available here, includes a number of recommended steps financial institutions can take to reduce the likelihood of being targeted by chain gangs.

NACS provides a variety of resources for retailers to help ensure the safety and security of their stores. To access these resources, visit the NACS Security and Safety page.