ATMs have become a very lucrative target for thieves, with some $200 million fraudulently taken per year from them in the US alone. Thieves use a variety of means to steal from ATMs; some use using binoculars, cell phone cameras or video cameras to steal PIN numbers, while others buy and then install bogus ATM machines (or just skimmers) to steal both a person's ATM card and the PIN number.
Other thieves are more direct: they pull ATMs out of the wall or use explosives to access their contents. In fact, in South Africa, the London Guardianreports,
"The number of cash machines blown up with explosives has risen from 54 in 2006 to 387 in 2007 and nearly 500 last year."
In an effort to deter ATM fraud, the bank Absa, the largest retail bank in South Africa, is piloting an ATM that will spray you with pepper spray if you tries to tamper with it in some way or it's camera detects someone trying to plant explosives, as well as automatically notify the authorities the Guardian story also says. So far, 11 ATMs have been outfitted with pepper spray there.
There are still a few kinks needed to be worked out, however.
Three technicians performing routine maintenance on the ATM got accidentally sprayed and required medical help a few weeks back. No customers got hurt, but the spray drifted throughout the shopping mall where the ATMS were situated.
Absa says that if the pilots are successful, it will be rolling out the technology across South Africa. Not surprisingly, the bank is refusing to give out many more details about its pepper-spraying ATMs, especially how one detects would-be bombers, citing security reasons.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.