Atm Shouldn't Stand For `Artfully Taken Money'

Want to rob a bank? With the advent of automated teller machines, it's become a lot easier than cracking a vault or passing a holdup note to a teller. Today's John Dillingers and Willie Suttons don't need to pack guns--instead, they might use a pair of binoculars to peer at people entering their personal identification numbers into an ATM. Or they might find that a familiarity with computer software comes in handy--to draw information from people using cards at a bogus cash machine, then use that information to loot accounts at another location.

That's just what some wily and brazen thieves did in Connecticut recently, playing on the gullibility of dozens of bank customers. The extent of the losses isn't yet known, and banks whose customers' accounts were raided have pledged to make them whole. But the incident sent chills down the spines of bank officials, who now have yet another form of bank crime to protect against. ATM fraud has existed for as long as there have been ATMs. Plastic cards are easy to replicate, and some people are sloppy about keeping their PINs private--indeed, some fraud turns out to be use of cards by friends and family.

Because customers' cards are so easy to replicate, banks are now considering thief-proofing measures, such as imprinting the cards with telltale watermarks or electronic fingerprints. Another idea: retina scanning, which would force bank customers to position their eyes (right or left?) in an eyecup (!) for identification before the card could be used. Technology is bringing brand-new forms of fraud. But it somehow seems incumbent on customers to assume some personal responsibility for the safety and soundness of their own bank accounts. Caveat cardholder.

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