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Beware around ATMs
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The advent of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) has revolutionized personal banking, allowing for 24-hour-a-day bank account access for convenience and for saving time. ATMs also created a new opportunity for criminals to commit robberies and other crimes. The number of ATM crime incidents in our area has been fairly low, but like most other crimes, these events tend to flare up when certain criminals decide to target these areas. The following tips will help keep you safe while near or using ATMs.

First, memorize your personal identification number (PIN) and be sure to not write the number on your card. It is also inadvisable to keep the PIN written somewhere in a wallet or purse. Under no circumstances should you reveal your PIN to anyone else, including representatives of the financial institution or even the police. Try to select an ATM that is in a well-lit area, free of obstructions or places for crooks to hide. As you approach the ATM, take a close look at the surroundings. Are there persons loitering or sitting in cars for no apparent reason? If so, come back later or go to another ATM location.

Try to minimize the amount of time spent at the ATM. Prepare your deposit and associated papers in advance of arriving at the ATM. It is wise to keep a supply of deposit envelopes to allow for this advance preparation. Do not linger in your car either before or after using the ATM. Keep the doors locked at all times while inside your vehicle. Counting the cash while at the ATM is unwise. Once the cash, ATM card and receipt are collected, get back into the car and leave the area as soon as possible.

When using the ATM, keep looking around to maintain awareness of your surroundings. Use your body to block any onlookers from seeing you enter your PIN. Others in line should be courteous and stay back far enough to make it impossible to see the details of the transaction. If someone hovers nearby or tries to look over your shoulder, cancel the transaction and go elsewhere.

When using the ATM, it is best to bring only the card. Wallets and purses are awkward to deal with, since most ATM locations usually have little or no desk space to place items on. These items will tempt criminals to "grab and run," so leaving them in a locked car is better. Drive-up ATMs feature some additional safety considerations. One tactic used by criminals is to block a victim's vehicle, making it impossible to escape.

There is no need to be paranoid about using ATMs. Common sense and being alert should keep your chances of becoming a victim to a minimum. Furthermore, it helps to report suspicious people or activity near ATMs immediately to the police. The banking industry makes a substantial effort to create a safe customer environment at ATM locations. By following the tips in this column, coupled with the inherent safety features of ATM locations, everyone should be relatively safe when using the automated banking machines. For further information, please contact your local bank or police department.