Spike in destructive ‘chain gang’ attacks on ATMs – Krebs on Security
Last summer, Texas financial institutions began reporting a sudden spike in attacks involving well-orchestrated crews that would show up at night, use stolen trucks and heavy chains to rip ATMs (ATMs) off their foundations and run away with the crates inside. Now it appears that the crime – known as “ATM smash-and-grab” or “chain gang”Attacks – increasing rapidly in other states.
the Texas Bankers Association documented at least 139 chain gang attacks on Texas financial institutions during the year ending November 2020. The association says organized crime is the main source of the destructive activity, and that those responsible Houston-based FBI have made more than 50 arrests and are actively monitoring 250 individuals suspected of being part of these criminal networks.
From surveillance camera footage reviewed by fraud investigators, the perpetrators followed the same playbook in every incident. The bad guys show up early in the morning with a stolen truck or tractor at a local construction site.
Then two or three masked men will remove the front covering from the ATM using crowbars and attach heavy chains to the cash dispenser. The money cans inside are on display after the crooks remove the door to the ATM safe using the stolen vehicle.
In almost all cases, the attackers are killed in less than five minutes.
Tracey Santor is the bond product manager for Travelers, which insures a large number of financial institutions against this type of crime. Santor said investigators interviewing some of the suspects have learned that smash-and-grabs are used as a kind of initiation for potential gang members.
“One of the things they found out during the arrest was that people wishing to join the gang were told they had to bring them $ 250,000 in a week,” Santor said. “And they were given instructions on how to do it. I’ve also heard of cases where thieves have placed construction cones around the ATM so it appears to anyone passing by that they are legitimately carrying out construction work on the site.
Santor said chain gang attacks have spread to other states and that in the year ending June 2021, travelers saw a 257% increase in the number of related insurance claims. ATM crashes.
This 257% increase also includes claims involving incidents where attackers run over a stolen car at a convenience store and then, in the ensuing commotion, charge the store’s ATM in the back of the vehicle and drive away. .
In addition to cash losses – which can often exceed $ 200,000 – replacing destroyed ATMs and any associated housing can take weeks, and newer models of ATMs can cost $ 80,000 or more.
“It doesn’t stop,” Santor said of the chain gang attacks. “Over the past year, we have counted 32 separate states in which we have seen this type of attack. Normally we see single digit numbers all over the country. 2021 is going to be the same or worse for us than last year. “
The increased control by law enforcement over crime in Texas could explain why a number of neighboring states are experiencing a recent increase in the number of chain gang attacks, said Elaine dodd, executive vice-president of the fraud division for the Oklahoma Bankers Association.
“There’s a lot going on here now and they’re getting good at it,” Dodd said. “The numbers are exploding. I think since Texas focused law enforcement attention on this it’s been spreading like fingers from there. “
It’s not hard to see why physical attacks on ATMs are on the rise. In 2019, the average amount stolen in a traditional bank robbery was only $ 1,797, according to the FBI.
In contrast, stealing from ATMs is much less risky and potentially much more rewarding for perpetrators. This is because ATMs can usually hold hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
Dodd said she hoped to see federal investigators become more involved in the fight against chain gang attacks, and that it would be helpful if more of these attacks were prosecuted as bank robberies, which can lead to serious crime. heavy federal penalties. As it stands, she said, most incidents are treated as property crimes and left to local investigators.
“We had a series of three attacks recently and contacted the FBI, and we were told, ‘We’re not working with these,’” Dodd said. “The FBI views these attacks not as a bank robbery, but simply as money theft.”
In January, Texas lawmakers are introduced a law that would make destroying an ATM a third degree felony. Such a change would mean that chain gang members could be sued with the same zeal as Texas applies to people who steal someone’s cattle, a felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $ 10,000 (or both).
“At the end of the day, bank robbery is a crime right now and theft from an unattended ATM is not,” Santor said.
KrebsOnSecurity has registered with the European ATM Safety Team (EAST), which keeps statistics on fraud of all kinds targeting ATM operators in Europe. Executive Director EST Lachlan gunn said the global physical attacks on ATMs in Europe have been much calmer since the start of the pandemic.
“The attacks fell off right away during the lockdowns and started to pick up a bit as the restrictions were relaxed,” Gunn said. “So, no major spike here, although [the United States is] further on the relaxation of restrictions.
Gunn said the most common physical attacks on European ATMs continue to involve explosives – such as gasoline tanks and solid explosives that are typically stolen from mining and construction sites.
“The biggest problem with physical attack in Europe remains solid explosive attacks, due to the significant collateral damage and risk to life,” Gunn said.
The Texas Bankers Association report, available here (PDF), includes a number of recommended steps financial institutions can take to reduce the likelihood of being targeted by chain gangs.