This story was first published on October 3, 2006
Message claims that if you are forced by robbers to withdraw money from an ATM, you can secretly alert police by entering your PIN in reverse.
The claims in the message are false. Reverse PIN technology does exist. However, it has not yet been implemented by any banks. Entering your PIN in reverse will NOT call police.
Subject: Reverse pin number to call police
I just found out that should you ever be forced to withdraw monies from an ATM machine, you can notify the police by entering your Pin # in reverse. The machine will still give you the monies you requested, but unkown to the robber, etc, the police will be immediately dispatched to help you. The broadcast stated that this method of calling the police is very seldom used because people don’t know it exists. It might mean the difference between life & death. Hopefully, none of you will have to use this, but I wanted to pass it along just in case you hadn’t heard of it. Please pass it along to everyone possible.
Subject: ATM USE: This is a useful TIP …
In the spite of armed robbery, here is something you may really need.
WHEN A THIEF FORCES YOU TO TAKE MONEY FROM THE ATM, DO NOT ARGUE OR RESIST, YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW WHAT HE OR SHE MIGHT DO TO YOU.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IS TO PUNCH YOUR PIN IN THE REVERSE, I.E IF YOUR PIN IS 1254, YOU PUNCH 4521.
THE MOMENT YOU PUNCH IN THE REVERSE, THE MONEY WILL COME OUT BUT WILL BE STUCK INTO THE MACHINE HALF WAY OUT AND IT WILL ALERT POLICE WITHOUT THE NOTICE OF THE THIEF.
EVERY ATM HAS IT, IT IS SPECIALLY MADE TO SIGNIFY DANGER AND HELP.
NOT EVERYONE IS AWARE OF THIS.
FORWARD THIS TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS AND THOSE YOU CARE FOR.
This message claims that if criminals force you to withdraw money from an ATM, entering your PIN in reverse will automatically alert police.
The technology that makes this possible does exist. However, so far, banks have not implemented it. Thus, at the time of writing, if you are forced to withdraw money against your will, the chance that the ATM you are using will have the reverse pin technology installed is virtually nil.
Back in 1994, Joseph Zingher from Chicago began developing ATM software that would silently call police if a PIN was entered in reverse. Since then, Zingher has spent years trying to sell the idea to banks in the United States without success. Several US states have explored the idea, but it is yet to be implemented. In 2004, the US state of Illinois passed legislation requesting that banks install reverse-pin safety technology in their ATMs. However, banks were not legally required to do so, and displayed little interest in using the system. In 2009, another bill was put forward in Illinois that would make implementation of the safety PIN mandatory for banks in that state. According to information published on the Illinois General Assembly website the bill was “Re-referred to Assignments” in March 2009.
Zingher and others continue to push for the implementation of reverse pin or similar consumer safety systems at ATMs. The concept is sound, and such technology may well increase ATM security, discourage forced withdrawal crime and possibly even save lives, if it was widely used.
That said, many people have raised doubts about the effectiveness of such a system. Commentators have suggested that the system would fail if a customer’s PIN was the same backwards as it was forwards, such as the number “4334” or if the PIN was four identical digits such as “8888”. However, Zingher maintains that customers with such PIN’s would be protected using alternative methods such as the “Inside-OutPIN and the Plus-1PIN”. Others have noted, that even if an ATM sent a silent alarm indicating that a robbery was in progress, the criminals would likely have well and truly fled the scene by the time police arrived. Some banking spokespeople have criticized the proposed system, suggesting that if it was made mandatory, criminals as well as customers would know about it and it would therefore do little to deter criminals. They have also suggested that a panicked victim of a violent ATM robbery might have trouble correctly entering a PIN in reverse and thereby risk further antagonising the criminals when the ATM displayed an error message and no money was dispensed. Furthermore, they point out that people regularly make mistakes when entering their PIN’s and this could lead to false alarms that would waste the time of police. However, Zingher scoffs at such concerns and maintains that his system would significantly increase customer safety and reduce ATM crime.
In an increasingly security conscious consumer market, it may not be too long before banks decide that such technology is financially viable or legislation forces them to act.
Until then however, forwarding this message is ill advised. Since it is extremely unlikely to work, the “advice” in this message could actually be dangerous. Forcing a victim to withdraw money from an ATM is a high-risk, violent crime. If a victim enters a reverse pin at an ATM that does not have the safety PIN system installed, he or she will receive an error message and no money will be dispensed. This delay could antagonise the criminal and increase the risk of violent retaliation.
Moreover, if banks were to install a safety PIN system, they would provide information to their customers explaining the new system and how to use it. The message claims that the system is seldom used because “people don’t know it exists”. However, it is absurd to suggest that a bank would go to the considerable expense of implementing a safety PIN system and then not bother to tell their customers about it.
The original version of the message mentioned a “broadcast” as the source of the information. This may refer to a September 2006 WOAI San Antonio News story on the subject. The video cited the case of a San Antonio man who was forced to withdraw money from several ATMs and explained the concept of reverse-pin technology as a means of countering such crimes. However, the story very clearly stated that such technology is not yet being used.
An updated version of the message strays even further from the truth. Like the earlier version, this later variant also falsely claims that all ATM’s already have the reverse PIN technology implemented. However, it also makes the claim that, if a victim of ATM bandits did enter his or her PIN in reverse, the money would get stuck coming out while the machine secretly alerted police. To my knowledge, this stuck money “feature” has never been part of the Safety PIN proposal and it is very unlikely that it would be included in any working version of the system. In fact, such a feature could considerably heighten the danger to the victim. If the money did become stuck during the transaction, the robber would then suspect that the victim had entered the PIN in reverse thereby alerting police and may then take violent retaliatory action against the victim.
And yet another variant falsely claims that the information was “recently broadcast by Crime Stoppers” and that “all ATM’s carry this emergency sequencer by law”.
To reiterate, although such technology exists, and legislation in some jurisdictions may eventually force their banks to begin using it, the system is NOT currently in use. Entering your PIN in reverse at an ATM will NOT call police and will only result in an “incorrect PIN” error message. Thus, this email contains dangerous misinformation and it should not be forwarded. If banks begin to install reverse PIN technology at ATMs it is sure to be well publicized. If your own bank begins using such a system, it will almost certainly let you know about it directly.