Could Reverse PIN Save Lives at ATM?

May 21, 2012 by Julie Montanaro

Type the words ATM and murder into Google News. You might be surprised to see how many murderers tried to use their victims' ATM cards before - or after - they killed them.

One man says it's about time states started tracking ATM related crimes and banks started offering customers a panic PIN number.

The surveillance photos of a man in a makeshift mask are enough to send chills up your spine.

It turned out the man behind the mask was serial killer Gary Hilton as he tried to make not one but five withdrawals using the ATM card of missing - and ultimately murdered - Sunday school teacher Cheryl Dunlap.

Dunlap's cousin says she was shocked to discover how many killers try the same thing.

"I typed in ATM and murders, because I wanted all murders that were connected to ATM machines and all of a sudden all these stories popped up," Gloria Tucker said.

A Chicago man has been trying for a dozen years to get banks to adopt something called a "Reverse PIN" that could alert police to a forced withdrawal as it happens. He's convinced it could save lives.

"Instead of typing in your regular PIN, 1-2-3-4, you type in your reverse PIN 4-3-2-1. The computer kicks out the cash, but it also calls the cops. It tells them who you are and where you are and the fact that you're in trouble and it does that before the cash ever comes out of the ATM," Zingher said.

Zingher contends part of the problem is that the FBI doesn't have a separate Uniform Crime Report category for reporting ATM related crimes and most states don't have a criminal code section for it. That means few really have any idea how common ATM-linked murders really are.

"It looks like about somewhere between three and six per cent of all murders in the United States involve the killer using the victim's ATM card after the known time of death. That's somewhere between 500 and 1000 murders a year," Zingher said. "What happens is the crime just gets lumped in with whatever is similar to it. In this case, forced ATM withdrawals just get lumped in with robbery and they disappear amongst hundreds of thousands of other cases every year."

FDLE is working on a system in the next year that should make it easier to track ATM-related crimes (as well as other crimes) statewide, but that information would be for law enforcement eyes only.

As far as requiring cities and counties to report them, an FDLE spokeswoman says it has no federal orders or legislative mandates to do that.

"The FBI gives us seven index crimes to track and local law enforcement submits those to FDLE. So that is a federal program and we use the crimes that they tell us to track." said FDLE Spokeswoman Gretl Plesinger.

The Florida Bankers Association does not have a position on the Reverse PIN, but the American Bankers Association does.

America Bankers Association Spokesman Doug Johnson says the ABA has "grave concerns" about it. He says it would give customers a false sense of security. "It's unrealistic to think you would have a response in time to make a difference," he said. "It is not clear to us even if it were technologically possible, that it would work."

Zingher contends just the existence of a reverse PIN would discourage money hungry robbers and murderers.

"The mere presence of the system ends up acting like a guard dog. You're going to have people who won't be attacked at all because the system is there," Zingher said.

Cheryl Dunlap's cousin isn't sure the reverse PIN would get help there in time to catch a robber or stop a murder, but after she made a list of the all the victims she found on line, she says it is certainly worth a try.

"Well, I have a list of 55 names of people who have been murdered and two people who survived, but were injured severely. There's the possibility those people could be alive. Even if three of them lived, or five of them lived. That's still lives saved," Tucker said.

It's important to note that Joe Zingher does hold a U.S. patent on the reverse PIN and stands to make money if it's adopted. He points out, it's been more than 12 years and that hasn't happened yet.

"ATM crimes are very, very serious crimes," ABA Spokesman Doug Johnson said. "We feel there are much better ways to protect yourself."


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