Fort Worth

ATM thefts on the rise in Fort Worth, Dallas

ATM smash-and-grab attempt

Surveillance video shows a smash and grab burglary attempt on an empty ATM machine at the Fat Cat Express Valero convenience store on the South Freeway at Felix.
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Surveillance video shows a smash and grab burglary attempt on an empty ATM machine at the Fat Cat Express Valero convenience store on the South Freeway at Felix.

The four-door pickup barreled through the Fat Cat Express, crashing into shelves of two-liter sodas, cheap wine and candy. If that sounds like a mess, just ask the man who had to clean it all up.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Yadab Khanal, the owner of the south Fort Worth convenience store burglarized Nov. 14. “They didn’t take anything.”

But the two aspiring thieves, who fled on foot and left a white Ford beneath a heap of debris in the parking lot, had a popular target: The store’s ATM.

ATM smash-and-grabs have been on the rise in Fort Worth since this summer, said Cpl. Tracey Knight, a police spokeswoman. The department did not have the specific number of ATM burglaries this year.

In Dallas, though, they’ve climbed to 79, with 33 successful. Last year, there were “virtually no ATM smash-and-grabs” in Dallas until December, the Dallas Morning News reported.

“I don’t know what it is about Texas,” said David Tente, the national executive director for the ATM Industry Association. “We’re having reports that that type of attack is more noticeable there in recent years. ... Really, it’s been primarily this year.”

Convenience stores, such as Khanal’s Valero station, “are targeted most frequently, most likely because ATMs [there] are lighter and easier to get to than ATMs at the banks,” Knight said.

Convenience stores are more frequently targeted for ATM thefts because their machines are often lighter and more accessible

At the Fat Cat Express, which Khanal has owned for nine years, the ATM sat just inside a front window. The burglars parked at the store around 3 a.m., peeked through the windows and then drove through.

But after breaking open the ATM, presumably with the impact of the truck, the men found nothing. Khanal empties the safe each night, aware of other area thefts and also because this has happened to him before, in 2011.

Two days earlier, the front of another store — Big B’s service station on Hemphill Street — was damaged in a similar burglary. A car smashed the north entrance of the store near the ATM and stole the machine. Police later found the stolen car used during the theft, but no arrests were made, Fort Worth officer Daniel Segura said.

No arrests were made in the Fat Cat Express burglary, either. Khanal was left with what he estimated to be around $60,000 in damage, including structural damage and lost inventory.

He boarded up the west side of his building with plywood, covering the place where the burglars rammed through brick and glass.

Going ‘low-tech’

“Here’s the sad thing: They’re causing more damage to the buildings than what they’re getting out of these ATMs,” said Hurst police detective Chad Woodside, who is investigating a pair of ATM burglaries that happened this past week.

They were only Hurst’s second and third ATM-related offenses of the year, but that’s three more than Woodside can remember in his 30 years with the department.

In August, a man stole a forklift from a Taco Casa construction site in Hurst and used it to steal an ATM from a Bank of America in North Richland Hills.

In the two recent Hurst cases, thieves crashed stolen Ford pickups through convenience stores, stealing ATMs in both and abandoning the trucks afterward.

“They’re not afraid to do it, and that’s the bad part,” Woodside said. “It takes some guts to do this.”

They’re not afraid to do it, and that’s the bad part. It takes some guts to do this.”

Hurst detective Chad Woodside

Tente said the threat of physical attacks on ATMs “has always been out there,” but the main security problem has been skimming devices, which can steal and store card and bank account information.

Over the years, anti-skimming efforts have improved, Tente said.

“We can speculate that when that happens, you see the crooks go low-tech,” he said.

Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores, said cash management practices have improved, too, possibly pushing thieves away from cash registers and toward ATMs.

But even as ATMs have become potential robbery targets, there are still “compelling reasons” for a convenience store to have one, Lenard said.

On average, stores earn around $9,200 in revenue from ATM fees. Maybe more importantly, Lenard said, ATMs provide an opportunity for customers to pay with cash, which helps stores avoid credit card fees.

“The cash customer is a good customer,” Lenard said.

Precautionary measures

So there’s the dilemma for convenience stores: ATMs are an important part of their business, yet a break-in targeting an ATM can cost thousands, whether the ATM is taken or not.

“Owners can move the ATM away from doors and windows and place them in the back of the store,” Knight said. “This will make it harder to get to, thus taking more time to steal the machine.”

Bolting ATMs to the floor can also slow down thieves, and lighting and visibility can increase the chance they will be caught, Lenard said. Bollards, the concrete poles sometimes placed in front of entrances, can help stop cars from ramming stores.

Neither Big B’s or the Fat Cat Express had bollards where the stores were broken into.

Bank ATM safes are typically more secure, Tente said, but that doesn’t guarantee thieves will always look elsewhere.

“Even if you have a one or two higher [security] rating on the safe,” Tente said, “that usually just slows them down.”

Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7684

Twitter: @RyanOsborneFWST