When asked why he robbed banks, Brooklyn-born bank robber Willie Sutton famously replied: “That’s where the money is.” If Willie was around today he’d see automatic teller machines and laugh. Or rub his hands with glee. While the potential earnings are small compared to the dough inside a bank, the minimal time required to rob a customer and low risk of detection and apprehension make the job as easy as, well, taking money from an ATM . . .

ATM’s are a robbery waiting to happen. There’s no live surveillance, no guard to scare-off robbers. Anyone who sees you there KNOWS you’re getting cash (or can be forced to get cash). Worst of all, you’re facing away from approaching foot or car traffic. Even if you’ve amped-up your situational awareness – using your senses of hearing and smell I suppose – you’re focusing on a task requiring a fair amount of concentration. You’ll never see the robber coming.

But wait! There’s more! Not all bad guys are stupid enough to get close enough to the ATM camera when relieving a customer of their hard-earned cash. They wait, follow you for a bit, and then attack. Why not? They get plenty of time to check-out the area, identify people who look like money, figure out which way they might travel and set a trap. How great is that?

At least the “off-site” scenario offers you a better chance to see the attack coming, run and/or defend yourself with a firearm. The back-to-the-attacker-at-the-bank scenario has you playing twenty yards behind the starting line. Draw on a drawn gun or held knife? Not recommended. Not saying it can’t be done . . .

Yes, well, consider the adrenalin, police investigation, paperwork and overall hassle of dealing with the aftermath of a successful defensive gun use at an ATM. Do you really want to do any of that if you don’t have to? Sure, there are dozens of videos (like the one below) offering strategies for surviving an ATM robbery. Some of it even makes sense. But do any of the encounters look like fun?

The simpler, easier option: use a debit card for your purchases. Alternatively, keep a small stash of cash at home for your own ATM. If you HAVE to get cash from an ATM, use one inside a bank or store. If you’re using a convenience store ATM, for example, remember to look for lingerers lingering, waiting for some palooka to withdraw cash and leave the store. And keep your guard up as you leave – and beyond!

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56 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Use ATMs

  1. I’m pretty sure the Sutton quote is apocryphal. I believed all my life, until several years ago.

    Buzz quote, though…

  2. I pretty much exclusively use the free ATMs inside of Wawa gas stations. Whenever I use an ATM it’s always because I’m pulling out large amounts of cash ($300-500) and every single time there some guy standing behind me looking sketchy as hell. My procedure:
    Walk up to ATM
    Look around
    Insert card, cover PIN with my hand
    Grab cash, put it straight in my pocket and walk out the door
    Get in my truck, lock the doors, start the engine
    Count it to make sure it’s right
    Leave

    Hopefully no one will ever try to rob me at the ATM, but I’m not going to stop doing what I need to do over something that is extremely improbable at best.

    • Maybe you have a good reason to use the ATM frequently, but why don’t you just get the money you need at the bank, when their open?

    • “Count it to make sure it’s right”

      Not sure why you would do that. I mean, it’s not as if you could go back inside and ask somebody to correct the error. I’d skip that step and do that later.

      • Some of us already have more money inside our wallets and once the newly-withdrawn money intermingles with that money, any discrepancy wouldn’t be apparent.

        We don’t all wear those giant, creepy gloves that you wear in your videos, so you can be forgiven to think that it takes everyone else as long as it does you to count money.

    • Hey, man, can you hurry up? I need to use the ATM so I can pay for my 10″ classic meatball sub with a side of mac n cheese.

  3. Off topic, but I first became interested in appendix carry when I saw a video (I believe it was posted here) of a man successfully fighting off an ATM robber because the man was able to discreetly access his pistol and surprised the robber. Much easier to just avoid ATMs, but still. It made an impression.

  4. I always go to the drive through ATM so there’s at least SOMETHING between me and somebody. Another good thing is to always take somebody with you. Strength in numbers.

    But avoiding ATM’S is legit advice too

  5. All the ATMs in my area are either drive-up or inside convenience stores.
    Situational awareness is always a good thing, though.

  6. Depends a lot on where you live. If the concern is theft, you’re probably much more at risk using your debit card everywhere than running to the ATM and getting cash. But then there’s a big difference between an unauthorized transaction and armed robbery.

    If you own firearms you probably have a safe at home (or should), use it to keep some cash around. You never know when you’ll be hit by a flood, tornado, earthquake, shelter in place order, etc. The banks could be closed for a while and you may be SOL without some cash. You should also keep a few gallons of fresh water on hand and some none parishable food.

    • That’s good advice. In the run-up to the last two big hurricanes to hit Houston (Rita ’05 and Ike ’08), the ATMs were swamped like the gas stations and ran equally dry. The banks themselves had cash, but all went on lockdown and diverted all customer traffic to the drive-through lanes, which quickly swelled into very long lines.

    • Ill beat the shit out of them first.. Im good that way.. Ill switch to plan B if they have a gun.. But Ill engage if they have anything else.

  7. One really sad thing about this story. One of the robbers was shot three time and is stable condition, the report say’s. Now the county going to have to spend money on a trial, and probably have to feed the dip shit for maybe 5 or 10 years, plus pay all his medical cost.

    Too bad the intended victim didn’t nail him for good! BANG!

  8. I always keep 50 in my wallet I don’t touch and make all of my purchases on debit. Large withdrawals are done in a bank, and I carry 24/7.

    My head is on a swivel anyways because I refuse to ever be jumped.

  9. My wife wont use ATMs for this reason. Easier for her to get the cash out of me. I also only use drive up atm so I have something between me and the numbnuts. finally, learn to pocket carry and keep one hand on your heater and use the non-dominant hand to type in pin code and get the $$

  10. I don’t make a good target… Thieves, robbers, drug addicts and losers in general don’t have much to say to me, I generally eyeball people who get in my personal space.. Im not an easy mark.

    • Maybe your like me. When I see someone near who may be a threat, I start looking real pissed off about something. I also walk a bit faster with determined steps. Thieves generally don’t want to mess with somebody that looks like there going to be a problem. Of course there’s always the exception, and that why I carry.

      • Another technique that helps is smearing oatmeal on your face, ranting about “those bastards” to no one in particular, and wearing your underwear outside your pants.

  11. Keeping some emergency cash at home is a good idea that I adopted right after the 9/11 attacks. On my way home from work that day I stopped to get gas and couldn’t use a credit card because the attacks interrupted the whole system. Good thing I had sufficient cash on me to cover the purchase. It’s been a habit to keep emergency money in my safe at home ever since. Definitely better to use a drive-up atm then one where you’re on foot.

  12. I’m very picky about the ATMs I use. I won’t use an ATM that’s outside at all. I’ll only use ATMs that are affiliated with my bank (no fees), and I only use ATMs I’m familiar with (to protect against card skimmers).

  13. Pop into the local large supermarket and grab a few staples… Beer… Milk… Bread
    Then use your ATM card at checkout and add a hundred to the machine you key your pin into… A side benifit is no out of network charge either…. I have done this for years on many cross nation trips.. Some markets may limit you to $50 over your tab but most will do $100 and some will go to $200
    Normal situation awareness on getting back to your car but you will have a bag full of beer bottles to swing or offer as in hey man I just spent all my cash on this beer…. Joke

  14. About a year ago I was working late second shift, pulled up to my local atm at 1 in the morning to withdraw my share of rent. I can hear someone talking in a mumbled voice on the other side of the atm but can’t see him. I stopped the transaction before the withdrawal and drove off, turns out it was a dude walking his dog, but that’s why I never put the vehicle in park at a drive up, lets me do what I did.

  15. When there were teenagers in my house, I was the ATM….I started calling my wallet “The Black Hole.” I got so used to not having any money in my pocket that even now I rarely have more than a few bucks. Debit cards rule. And I absolutely hate outside ATMs.

  16. I prefer to whip out my gun while using the ATM. Nobody tries to rob the guy who’s already pointing his gun at everyone within 20 feet while using the ATM to withdraw cash.

  17. Wow – that third video showed some pretty tame self defense stuff. I’m a big fan of scenario training but I thought the violence of action was far below the appropriate level. My Krav instructor would go ballistic if his students were that passive.

    On an related note, I nearly got jumped by two guys at an ATM one night, until my pitbull made her presence know by lunging out the open car window and growling like a cement truck. The bad guys reconsidered and moved on.

  18. When I use the bank’s ATM, I never approach the unit if there is already someone using it. Just common courtesy. Most people do not subscribe to that policy. And they wonder why I turn and request they BACK OFF!

  19. An ATM is the only way to make a withdrawal from my credit union. Problem solved. I use the ATM at my gun club.

  20. A while ago I went on vacation to the Philippines. Instead of keeping a whole bunch of cash on me or leaving it in my room (where maids and other hotel workers have access) I went to an ATM every morning. Luckily there was an ATM close to my hotel with a jewelry shop next to it. I walked up and gave a big smile and a friendly “Kumusta” to the shop’s guard standing there with his shotgun and grabbed my money.

    • Philippine banks are awesome! Love the friendly guards (even outside by the ATM’s at times) with their Remington 870’s, 1911’s, M1’s, 1897 model Winchesters, .30 carbines, etc.

      My first trip there I was surprised to see them and asked to take a picture with one of them. He handed me his 12 gauge, put his arm around my shoulder and smiled for the camera. 😀

      I’ll see if I can find the pic and post it here.

      Friendliest, kindest, most genuine people on earth…

  21. Best way to avoid being robbed is by not being flashy. When going to the mall, ATM or Walmart I wear an old shower curtain held together with rope, some pieces of tire tread duct taped to my feet for shoes, and I leave my Rolex in the Beemer.

    Great side benefit of this outfit, you can easily carry a DRACO slung under your armpit as your CCW rig.

  22. Chase has done something really proactive with regard to ATM safety. They’re inside the banks foyer and accessed 24 hours a day with you debit card, swiped through a reader at the door. Plenty of glass to see nobody is waiting for you inside, and plenty of the same glass and lights to survey your exit route, and relatively safe while you’re inside. Nothing’s perfect, but short of 24 hour armed security this setup ain’t bad.

  23. Drive up ATM’s only for me and I get as close as possible to the machine so there is no way even a heroin addict could get between my vehicle and the machine. My urban assault vehicle is heavily armed and I am very situationally aware. Rarely hit one up anyway.

  24. I don’t believe that anyone in my county has ever been robbed at an ATM. I suppose if one were to be the victim of a street robbery locally an ATM would be a good place but that sort of robbery is virtually unheard of here.

    On that note, as I concealed carried my pair of EDCs through the day I encountered; One old motorcyclist who’s jacket had ridden up exposing the lower portion of the slide of his pistol as he road,
    One fellow openly carrying a large revolver in an auto parts store, and, though I had my jacket off attempting to change a flat thus making my sidearm clearly visible a fellow stopped along the side of the road to ask if I needed help, then talked to me about my choice of pistol as he proudly described his latest purchase.

    I’m not saying that lots of good guys with guns makes bad guys behave better, I’m just sayin’. . .

  25. The US dollar or world monetary system could collapse at any time. Did you see what happened in Cyprus. The banks will be ordered to lock the morning of such an event. The bank itself is an iffy prospect at best for cash safety. The interest paid now is worthless compared to an economic collapse. Use a checking account to pay bills, transfer money online so keep minimal cash there. Think a very large gun safe for cash on hand and guns with a security system when away. How many people do you think it would take to drain banks of their cash on hard? In 2008 their was a quiet run on the banks. What will the next one be like?

  26. I don’t know if it’s standard on all ATMs, but the Wells Fargo ATMs in my area all have parabolic mirrors (I think there’s a camera behind the mirror) that I use to make sure no one sneaks up behind me. Check out your ATMs for similar features.

  27. I’m 21 and I’ve never used an ATM. I’ve had a debit card since I was 15 and make nearly all of my purchases that way. Occasionally I will use the cash back feature at the grocery store so I will have cash on hand for tips but that’s about it. I also don’t make any big purchases without sleeping on it (anything over $200, a new gun for instance) , so that affords me time to go to the bank if I need a lot of cash. I don’t avoid ATMs as a rule, I’ve just never had any reason to use one.

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