Rob a store, maybe get a couple hundred dollars. Rob a bank, maybe a few thousand.
Why not avoid the weapons charge and possible FBI involvement and go for an entire ATM, stationed like a cash island in a chunk of concrete?
Last weekend, an area thief did just that, trying to steal an ATM from Patriots Bank in Princeton, just a few miles south of Ottawa.
“They’re easier to pull off than you’d think,” said J.R. Roberts, a security consultant with Security Strategies.
All you need is a pickup truck, chains and a little pulling power to pop off free-standing ATM machines, such as the one stolen in Princeton in a drive-thru lane outside the bank.
The relative ease of such thefts has caused an increase of ATM heists over the past few years, Roberts said.
The FBI doesn’t track ATM theft statistics because many occur at convenience stores or other locations not operated by a bank. Most police departments don’t track the crime specifically, and it’s categorized as theft in most crime statistics.
So there’s no accurate estimate of how widespread ATM theft is, though Roberts said anecdotal evidence of ATM theft rings from numerous states show it’s a growing concern.
The increase has caused ATM manufacturers to ramp up theft-prevention efforts. A variety of measures reduce thefts, but it’s mostly about location, Roberts said.
It’s the free-standing machines, such as the one in Princeton, that prove most attractive to thieves. The ones connected to buildings, for instance, are much more difficult to remove.
In convenience stores, Roberts said, a simple measure like placing a machine in the back of a store provides enough obstacles to deter thieves.
An ATM’s placement also influences the security level of the machine, said James Phillips, vice president of sales and marketing for Triton, an ATM manufacturer with more than 100,000 ATMs in the country.
Overall machine size and the width of steel protecting it can vary from a couple hundred pounds for more secure locations to more than 2,000 pounds for machines in unmonitored locations.
Some machines are also connected to alarm systems, which quickly alert police. And there’s always the chance an ATM has an alarm of its own.
Phillips said some of their units come equipped with a 120-decibel siren inside the ATM, enough to drive anyone away screaming, hands over ears.
“That’s the intent,” Phillips said.
If a pack of thieves does make away with a machine, there’s a final obstacle: opening it up.
That will take hours of hammering away with no guarantee of a big score. How much cash is in an ATM varies, but it can be as little as a few hundred dollars, Phillips said.
“A lot of times, it’s not worth the effort,” he said.
Franklin County authorities have yet to catch up with their suspect, recently identified as Jason Michael Smith, 33. Police say Smith eluded police after crashing the getaway car in Williamsburg and fleeing on foot. But the running bandit was forced to leave behind the heavy fruit of his labor — the ATM — for a more nimble, and in all likelihood temporary, escape.