Practice ATM Safety This Season

Those who use ATMs should understand that practicing safety when around the machine is essential any time of the year. However, it becomes even more important when the holiday season arrives.

While it's difficult to determine just how many ATM thefts occur each year, news reports indicate that thievery is growing -- even of the machines themselves. Enterprising individuals hook up devices to the machines to steal PIN codes and other pertinent information or simply wrap a chain around the ATM machine at convenience stores and make off in a pick-up truck with machine in tow.

Traditional methods of robbing individuals at ATM machines are also commonplace. With large funds withdrawn around the holidays, thieves know ATM machines are prime targets for easy money.

According to Chris McGoey, a security consultant, 60 percent of ATM crimes occur between 7 p.m. and 4 a.m., with the majority of those occurring before midnight. Most ATM robbers are under the age of 25 and male, working alone. They stand away from the ATM machine and often catch the person withdrawing money (typically a woman) off-guard. Many people who are the subject of theft never saw the robber coming. Fifty percent of thefts occur after the money has been withdrawn. Oftentimes a weapon or threat of a concealed weapon is used.

During the holiday season thieves may be more brash in their robbery attempts. Therefore, it isn't unlikely to think a robbery could take place in the daytime hours or in crowded malls.

For the millions of shoppers who will be using ATMs this holiday season and throughout the new year, consider these safety tips.

* Always be aware of surroundings when using an ATM. If anyone is standing too close or looks suspicious, cancel the transaction and find another machine.

* Choose ATMs that are in a well-lit, public area, free of obstructions that can impair visibility, such as trees, shrubbery or the corners of buildings.

* Many times a bank ATM is the safest option, provided that there is a card-activated lock on the door.

* Cancel the transaction if the ATM doesn't look "normal" or asks questions that are atypical from other ATM machines. It could be a dummy machine.

* Never write your PIN on the back of the ATM card. Memorize it.

* Minimize time spent at the machine, which means preparing deposit slips or other transactions in advance.

* If the machine "eats" your card, do not re-enter your PIN. Contact the bank or establishment where the ATM is located.

* Closely monitor bank statements and report any abnormalities.

* Promptly pocket withdrawn money; do not count it or flash the money in the vicinity of the ATM machine. * If someone does approach you with a weapon and demands money, comply and alert the police. Safety is more important than money. * Be wary of anyone attempting to "help" you with the ATM transaction.