- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

PHOENIX — Leave the gun. Bank robbers have found an easier way to make off with people’s money.

Across the country, thieves have hot-wired forklifts at construction sites, chugged up to banks and scooped up their automated teller machines, with all the cash inside.

ATM manufacturers have been working on ways to stop the heists, and sometimes, the amount of money involved is so small that it hardly seems worth the risk. But that didn’t discourage thieves this summer in Arizona, California and Georgia.

They have pulled off or attempted such thefts at least 21 times this year in Phoenix alone.

“It’s called the smash-and-dash,” said Rob Evans of NCR Corp., the largest maker of ATMs.

Since the 1990s, thieves have used forklifts to steal ATMs in Indonesia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Estonia, as well as the United States.

In the Washington area, thieves have used backhoes to steal ATMs.

Four years ago, criminals plowed through the front doors of a movie theater in Lethbridge, Canada, with a forklift, drove into the lobby, hoisted the bulky machine and carried it to a waiting pickup truck.

The payoff for those who succeed in breaking into the machines varies widely, from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

“The vast majority of those attacks are unsuccessful,” Mr. Evans said. “A lot of times, you just get a lot of damage.”

Some attempts end in almost comic failure. Often, thieves are spotted by security guards and surveillance cameras as soon as they come rumbling up, and they are eventually caught. (Some at least wear ski masks.) Others flee after failing to pry the ATM loose. Some get away, only to find the concrete-and-steel vault tough to crack.

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