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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  • by Joe Location: Gurnee on May 22, 2012 at 07:13 AM
    A very similar system is already being used in millions of homes across America by children as well as adults under circumstances that are worse. All of Gary Hilton's victims were driven to the ATM, leaving the victims a lot of time to gather their wits.
  • by Sheila Location: Tallahassee on May 22, 2012 at 06:48 AM
    I think the point of a reverse pin instead of an emergency button was so the guy behind you didn't catch on to what you were doing and kill you where you stand.
  • by roger on May 22, 2012 at 05:37 AM
    It is stupid...what if your pin is 1221? Ahhh, no one thought of that one. There are millions of combination that will not work......try again!
  • by TallyTrashTalks2 Location: Tallahassee on May 21, 2012 at 09:06 PM
    Nice thought..but waste of time, delay and danger for the victim already under extreme stress. Why not do away with pin numbers all together and replace with thumb print match or no cash??
    • reply
      by just me on May 22, 2012 at 06:44 AM in reply to TallyTrashTalks2
      I think I would rather keep my thumb.
    • reply
      by Hammer on May 22, 2012 at 03:09 PM in reply to TallyTrashTalks2
      That is simple. Helton will not only cut your head off, but your fingers as well. Then he has your card and your fingers.
  • by God Bless America on May 21, 2012 at 05:53 PM
    Great Idea...I hope they implement it quickly.
  • by Black flag on May 21, 2012 at 04:00 PM
    While the technology is simple to use, most people cannot remain calm enough to remember their reversed PIN under extreme stress. Generally, ATM crimes don't last long enough for police to respond anyway rendering the technology useless. My last job was in a secure facility where certain areas required ID and PIN using a similar system. If you were to enter your PIN in reverse the area would go on lock down, but studies showed that some employees and personnel with access to the area could not remember the reversed PIN under extreme stress. Keep in mind, the people that could remember the reversed PIN were naturally good and trained at operating under extreme stress.
    • reply
      by Joe on May 21, 2012 at 07:20 PM in reply to Black flag
      You make it sound impossible for anyone to use. If you have hard data that prove it, share it. At the very least, some people could use it when needed. That would take some killers off the streets saving the lives of Victim 1 and his next victims, 2 thru 20. If Gary Michael Hilton's Victim 3 had used it and he'd been caught, then victims, 4, 5, 6, etc would have all been saved.
      • reply
        by Black flag on May 21, 2012 at 09:50 PM in reply to Joe
        Extreme stress situations, some can think clearly and some can't. After reading my comment for a third time, having the system might be helpful for someone to use after an attack. The reverse PIN system does sense an emergency but still grants access to the accounts, by the time police start responding the suspect will be gone. Take out the middle man and just install an emergency button on the machines for the victim or for other emergencies. Hard evidence is in military and law enforcement training books, intelligence training books, internet, libraries, and even on TV. If's are an useless argument, they can't be tested.
    • reply
      by 1stlttightwad on May 21, 2012 at 07:48 PM in reply to Black flag
      If only, if but..At least there would be an option for people being robbed or their pass code compromised..Get real...YOU come up with a BETTER SOLUTION. As far as gone before the cops get their? Not if the ATM plays along with dispensing the cash...Ooops, please re enter code..Ooops, you may only withdraw $20 at a time..Trained?? What training is there required to punch in 4 or 5 numbers in reverse. Studies?? Who did they ask..the dummies that can't count or remember a couple of numbers..Maybe they shouldn't have access to ANY area if they are that dumb.
      • reply
        by Black flag on May 21, 2012 at 10:06 PM in reply to 1stlttightwad
        Better solution: After reading my comment for a third time, having the system might be helpful for someone to use after an attack. The reverse PIN system does sense an emergency but still grants access to the accounts, by the time police start responding the suspect will be gone. Take out the middle man and just install an emergency button on the machines for the victim after the attack or for other emergencies. There is no training for punching a hand full of numbers, but there is training for thinking clearly under extreme stress. Imagine (if you can) a large man approaching you while at an ATM, he has a weapon and is threatening your life while pushing and pulling on you, he demands you to give him all your money from the machine. Now, remember your number backwards within three seconds (preferably two seconds). Playing it out in your head makes it sound easy, right? If it does, you're either the calmest person alive, crazy (crazy is cool), or have never experienced extreme stress situations. Hard evidence is in military and law enforcement training books, intelligence training books, interrogation training books, psychology books, internet, libraries, and even on TV.
        • reply
          by GV on May 22, 2012 at 06:58 AM in reply to Black flag
          So what if they are already gone?What if they take the victim with them?Ever thought about that?At least someone would know something fishy is going on.
        • reply
          by Joe on May 22, 2012 at 07:18 AM in reply to Black flag
          and by the way, no such books exist that say what you claime they do.
  • by Joe Zingher Location: Gurnee, IL on May 21, 2012 at 03:51 PM
    Gee, if the ABA knows of a better way to protect people, why didn't Doug Johnson tell us what it is?
  • by marvin Location: tallahassee on May 21, 2012 at 03:20 PM
    its amazing how easy it is for the banking industry to charge us 2 dollars for using the atm, but they cant come up with a safeguard to keep criminals from withdrawing our funds - give me a break, how about using some of those charges to come up with an idea on saving a life or two
    • reply
      by Black flag on May 21, 2012 at 07:31 PM in reply to marvin
      Go to your bank's ATM and don't get charged the $2.
    • reply
      by 1stlttightwad on May 21, 2012 at 07:48 PM in reply to marvin
      This guy did..It's the cops that are holding it up.
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