Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Use Outdoor ATMs at Night

Urban legend has it that someone asked legendary bank robber Willy Sutton why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he replied. Allegedly. It’s certainly true that latter day bad guys are attracted to ATM machines like moths to a flame. ‘Cause that’s where the money is. All cash-seeking criminals have to do: wait for you to withdraw the funds and then “convince” you to surrender the money. Motivation may include beating, stabbing and shooting. In rare cases like the one above, a good guy fights back with ballistic conviction and wins. Yay us! In most cases, no. Not at all. In fact, the ATM thing is a bit of a scandal . . .

Banks could do a LOT more to make ATM’s safer for their customers. A mirror above the money machine could increase situational awareness exponentially. A big ass camera right above the no-armed bandit wouldn’t go amiss either. Banks could also educate customers on some simple rules: go with a friend (a.k.a., lookout), scan the area for bad guys before approaching the machine, keep a hand on a revolver in your pocket, etc.

[NOTE: some states prohibit carrying a gun into a bank. Some banks position their ATMs inside glass fishbowls just outside the lobby or attached to the main building. That counts as “in” the bank.]

TTAG’s gonna do its part for ATM security with this simple piece of advice: don’t use bank ATMs at night. It’s a stupid place (thug magnet) where stupid people (the aforementioned bad guys) do stupid things (rob people). Put another way, the bad guys can’t mug you if you’re not there to be mugged.

If you need late night cash (e.g., babysitter baksheesh) go inside a supermarket, gas station or Stop ‘N Rob. While those locales may also be high-crime areas, at least you have some concealment, a bit of back-up, the possibility of police awareness and a beeper that tells you when someone’s coming in the door. Also, the ATM’s are small enough that you can see what’s going on around you.

The hero above gets full marks for marksmanship and moxie. But no amount of skill with armed self-defense changes the simple fact that the only gunfight you’re guaranteed to win is the one you never have.


  1. avatar Texheim says:

    Wait a second, 18 and 19 year olds can’t buy handguns!!! This story can’t possibly be true…

    1. avatar Accur81 says:

      I wonder how many liberal progressives are shocked that criminals don’t obey gun laws. I’m sure the next law waiting atop a mahogany desk to be signed by a $300 Waterman pen in a well-apointed office signed by an overpaid politician will provide an impenetrable safety net. After all, it’s for the children…

      1. avatar Cliff H says:

        stupid politicians sign laws.

    2. avatar Cliff H says:

      Couldn’t possibly have had a permit to carry the thing around, either. This story is obviously a fabrication planted by the NRA to make POTG look good.

  2. avatar Bruce says:

    That information should be sent to every person in America. Maybe a mass mailing from the NRA without the NRA name on the envelope (people may just throw it away without reading it). Or get the state or federal government involved (well, I can think of some problems with that). Maybe banks would assist with getting it out (right). But the information should get out. I mean, it’s just “Common Sense”.

    1. avatar NYC2AZ says:

      Or we could just ban ATMs. If there weren’t ATMs around, then there wouldn’t be crime around ATMs.

      /sarc 😉

  3. avatar Bruce says:

    I liked the cops warning to the bad guys. There are armed citizens out there willing to pull the triger. I wonder where the most robberies of this type are? Maybe Chicago, New York, might be nice to have that information.

  4. avatar AlphaGeek says:

    Banks could do a LOT more to make ATM’s safer for their customers. A mirror above the money machine could increase situational awareness exponentially. A big ass camera right above the no-armed bandit wouldn’t go amiss either.

    Every bank I’ve been to in CA has had all of those elements. Doesn’t matter, because (a) stupid, desperate criminals are going to do stupid, desperate things believing they can get away with it, and (b) the vast majority of the US public are so situationally unaware of their surroundings that they’re easy pickings regardless of such security measures.

    Don’t go alone, unarmed and oblivious to the bank ATM at night hits the nail on the head.

    1. avatar Cliff H says:

      Every ATM I have seen has tiny little fish-eye mirrors that are only good enough to see that someone is approaching, not who they are or what they’re up to. They all have a camera built in that takes YOUR picture while you make the transaction. Some banks may have a larger security camera, but why, exactly, do you think so many BGs these days where hoodies?

      None of those systems work all that well and even so the perps only need to wait until you walk a few steps away from the machine and all security systems are out of range. The good news is that we don’t hear a lot of reports where they just walk up and shoot you as soon as you pull your cash out of the ATM.

      Years ago Saturday Night Live did a skit where the ATM had two lines. As each customer stepped up to the machine a young man from the other line would step up next to him and say, “Hi, my name’s John, I’ll be your robber tonight.” Things haven’t changed much.

    2. avatar Rich Grise says:

      Their sphere of awareness is pretty much delineated by their face and hands.

  5. avatar Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

    Ban high-capacity ATMs!!

  6. avatar ensitue says:

    More guns= Less Crime

    1. avatar Accur81 says:

      More Criminals With Gunshot Wounds = Less Crime

      More Guns Control Laws = More Safety For Criminals

  7. avatar Dirk Diggler says:

    I don’t let my wife go to ATMs during the day. As a woman in a luxury suv, with 2kids in tow, she is already down the situational awareness chart. If she needs cash, she just takes it from my money clip or out of the emergency stash in the gun safe. Some of her female friends bristle at the notion that I don’t “let” her, but she is quick to point out that their husbands must not love them enough to protect them properly.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      Yeah, my ex also used to take money from my wallet. At night. When I was asleep. And she’d “forget” to tell me about it. Her kids profitably used the same technique.

      1. avatar Dirk Diggler says:

        LMAO. Mine just sticks her hand out and says “I need money”

    2. avatar JaredFromTampa says:

      Who actually needs or has cash anymore anyways? My wife and I both have direct deposit and debit cards. I suppose waiters, drug dealers/users and strippers carry cash, but since I rarely if ever go to strip clubs or buy drugs, I see no need to go to an ATM. I don’t think I’ve even seen cash in over a year, just numbers in my online bank account…mostly going out. I’m sure cash still has some utility, I’m just not sure what it is.

      1. avatar CarlosT says:

        I almost never have cash either. I occasionally use an ATM to deposit checks, but I try to be as aware as possible during the transaction.

      2. avatar Rick says:

        I’m sure cash still has some utility, I’m just not sure what it is.

        To buy paperless guns and ammo of course.

  8. avatar Ardent says:

    As Alpha Geek points out, most of the people I see are so situationally unaware that I have little doubt one could approach to close to them as to grab the phone that is distracting them so much or snatch the ear buds from their ear before they even knew they were no longer alone.

    Yesterday evening for example I took my dog to our local park. There were 3 other people their, 2 with their faces illuminated by the light of their smartphones and the third with a full sized laptop computer. They weren’t exercising, socializing or even watching their kids, they were in another world and completely unaware of my presence until I called my dog (loudly). When I shouted all three startled, looked up, identified that I wasn’t a threat and immediately went back to their devices.

    I have little doubt one could have taken a child or burgled the cars in the parking area without any of these three nitwits even having been aware that a 4th person had been on the scene.

    I know if my honest mind turned to all the nefarious things I could have done due to these peoples utter lack of situational awareness a criminal would had to have acted on it. I submit that being aware and demonstrating that awareness is a huge deterrent to being victimized. With so many people walking around virtually as zombies I can’t imagine why a criminal would ever target someone with empty hands, empty ears, head up and eyes looking.

  9. avatar T-DOG says:

    I say we should make a gun free zone within 100 feet of all ATMS. That would stop them.

    1. avatar Russ Bixby says:

      Instead of gun-free zones, why not just have crook-free zones…?

  10. avatar Aaron says:

    +1 for Florida!

  11. avatar Mediocrates says:

    My ATM is inside my Publix supermarket… Or Walmart. I do the Wally Walk often.

  12. avatar Lars says:

    Where in the hell is there even a outside walk-up ATM anymore? I see drive-ups and walk-ins but not walk-ups.

    1. avatar Rick says:

      What bothers me is that the drive-up keypads have braille markings. WTF??

      1. avatar jwm says:

        You can infringe on the gun owners rights all you want. But infringe on the blind guys right to drive and the ACLU will be all over you.

        and if anyone doubts the blind are driving, come cruise California freeways.

  13. avatar calvin says:

    I never use the generic ATMs. Getting your card clipped by a skimmer on one of those is probably more likely than getting mugged. If I need cash and there’s no safe, free ATM then a pack of bubblegum+cash back at the drug store is my strategy.

  14. avatar Matt in FL says:

    Just because, I’ve got two pictures of ATM’s for you, via Google Maps.

    Not a great neighborhood, near where I used to live. ATM toward the middle of the building face, with short fences at both front corners so that someone has to come out and around instead of just being able to turn the corner and accost the person at the ATM. Also longer fences that extend out from the back corners of the building, to keep someone from hiding around back and then just running around to the front. Hemispherical mirror over your left shoulder as you’re standing at the ATM so you can see if someone’s hiding behind that pillar waiting on you to walk away. A pretty decent stab at security, I thought.

    Contrast that with this, near where I live now. Better neighborhood than the one above, but the ATMs are remarkably exposed. ATM right on the corner of the building, and there’s no hemispherical mirror to help you see around the corner. There’s actually a little stanchion (3.5′ high, 2′ wide) with deposit slips and stuff between the two ATMs, so if someone did blitz you at the left ATM from around that corner, and you tried to run away down the front of the building, you’d run right into that thing. This bank is on a busy corner during the day, but it still gets fairly dead at night.

    I’m not really making any judgments here that I can articulate, just things that I’ve noticed as I drive around.

  15. avatar Joey Miller says:

    I was fooled into watching that boring news clip, please specify in the future whether I can actually watch people get shot.

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