Q: I work odd hours and don’t have time to handle my transactions inside the bank during normal business hours. Since I primarily use ATMs, will you provide some safety tips?

A: ATMs have been incorporated into our way of life. They offer a real convenience to those on the run, but at the same time offer an element of risk. Using a bank ATM machine safely requires awareness and a little planning. Just because a bank ATM machine is open and available 24 hours a day doesn’t mean it is always safe to use it. According to Chris E. McGoey, security expert and consultant, most bank ATM robberies occur at night between 7 p.m. and midnight when the machine only produces 10 percent of the daily transactions. Between 7 p.m. and 4 a.m., the ATMs handle only 11 percent of the total daily transactions but suffer 60 percent of the crime.

Who’s doing the crime?

Bank ATM robbers are usually male, and most work alone. ATM robbers usually position themselves nearby waiting for a victim to approach and withdraw cash. Half of the ATM robberies occur after the cash withdrawal. Most claim that they never saw the robber coming. Most ATM robbers used a gun or claimed to have a concealed weapon when confronting the victim and demanding their cash.

Pick a safe location

Use only bank ATM machines in well-lit, high-traffic areas. ATMs inside busy supermarkets are considered safer. Don’t use ATM machines that are remote or hidden away from public view. Beware of obvious hiding places like shrubbery or overgrown trees. ATM robbers like to have the element of surprise and no witnesses. Robbers like good escape routes like nearby freeway on-ramps or thoroughfares.

Be alert

If anyone suspicious or seemingly dangerous approaches terminate your transaction and leave immediately, even if it means running away and leaving your ATM card in the machine. When you receive cash from the machine put it away immediately, extract your card, and walk away.

If you use your car at a bank drive-thru ATM machine, the same rules apply. Make sure there are no obvious hiding places or suspicious persons loitering in the area. If there are, go with your gut instinct and drive away. Keep your doors locked and the car in gear, with your foot firmly on the brake, while using the ATM machine. Keep a close eye on your rear and side view mirrors during the transaction. Robbers almost always approach from the rear on the driver’s side. If you see anyone approaching, drive off even if it means leaving your ATM card behind. If you are confronted by an armed robber, just give up your money without argument. The cash is not worth serious injury or death. Get to a safe place and call the police immediately.

Q: What should I do when I’m out with my family and need to “safely” get some cash from an ATM?

A: Our family is at the center of our personal universe. Most people would do almost anything for the sake of their family. That includes protecting them from known dangers and harm. This becomes increasingly difficult, at times, because we live in an open society where we share the same public places as the violent criminals like at outdoor bank ATM machines.

Family security plan

Whenever your family walks out the front door they leave that zone of protection that you have created. The secret to keeping your family reasonably safe once they leave home is to have a family security plan. To develop a family security plan you must give careful thought to the public routines of each family member and think of ways to make them safer from the violent people in the world. The best way to accomplish this is to hold a family meeting to discuss this plan and play “what if” using different scenarios. For example, what if we need to use the bank ATM machine? What steps should we take to make the process safer? What precautions can we take to be safer in the parking lot? What if someone approaches to rob us while using the ATM machine? What would we do and how would we react? Where would we go and who would we notify in case of emergency?

Most people have no such family plan and have not met as a family to discuss “what if” situations. When or if a criminal assault does occur, the family will not be prepared and will have to rely on instinct in response to the incident. What if their response instincts are wrong or their reactions inappropriate under the circumstances? We read about these all the time in the newspaper or hear about them on television, for example, where a man refuses to cooperate with the robber, only to be shot and killed. We have also become aware of incidents where someone using an ATM machine was kidnapped. ATM robbers like to have the element of surprise with no witnesses.

If you or your family members use ATM cash machines on a regular basis, here are some tips that can make the process a little safer:

• Only use ATM machines in a well-lit, open, high-traffic area.

• Use ATMs at inside busy supermarkets when possible.

• When you approach an ATM, scan the area first for loiterers.

• Have your card ready, leave quickly, and do not count your cash in public.

• Beware of offers for help from strangers during an ATM transaction.

• Tell any suspicious person in a loud, firm voice to back-off.

• Walk, run, or drive away immediately if your instincts tell you to do so.

• Most importantly, if you are confronted, don’t argue, fight or follow a robber. Give them the cash, then drive or walk to a safe place and immediately call the police.

This column was prepared by Neighborhood Resource Officer Richard Carranza, Beat 1 (beach, pier, and coastal areas). He can be reached at (424) 200-0681 or Richard.Carranza@smgov.net.

pullquote: “If anyone suspicious or seemingly dangerous approaches terminate your transaction and leave immediately, even if it means running away and leaving your ATM card in the machine.”