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Police Identify 18-Year-Old Suspect In Latest Attempted ATM Theft; Businesses Advised To Take Precautions As Thieves Target Stores

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Baltimore Police said a man falsely identified himself as a juvenile following his arrest for the attempted theft of an ATM at a convenience store near Druid Hill Park.

Police arrested 18-year-old Said Hamza and charged him with commercial burglary and other offenses. He is the only person arrested in connection to the smash-and-grab crime in the 2300-block of Orem Avenue just after 6 a.m. Sunday. Police said a van was used to plow through the front of the store.

Workers spent Monday cleaning up the mess. It is the latest in a string of ATM thefts across the Baltimore region.

Thieves have long considered ATMs a quick and easy target. According to law enforcement, they steal trucks and vans then smash them into stores and quickly leave with the machines.

In one case in Prince George's County, the suspects pulled up in a van, got out and attached one end of a chain to the ATM. The other was fastened to the tow hitch. After a few pulls, they were able to rip open the machine. The whole process took just 2 minutes.

WJZ spoke to David Tente, the executive director of the ATM Industry Association, which has been pushing for tougher penalties. "One group will just do it often enough until they get good at it. Once they do, it even becomes more profitable," Tente told Hellgren. "They're seeing the crooks get out right away and be able to commit another crime the next day. …The penalties are very often considered just property crimes. If you steal a candy bar or steal $10,000 from an ATM, sometimes the penalty is the same, and that just doesn't make sense."

Tente said as technology improves the security features on ATMs "the crooks don't give up, they just try something else. We see a lot of these attacks now are lower and lower tech."

While Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said ATM thefts year-over-year in Baltimore City are down more than 50 percent, nationwide, cases have more than doubled.

Some of these machines carry $20,000 in cash. They have been even more widely used during the pandemic when some banks kept their lobbies closed.

"We try to convince people not to put ATMs by the front window. They're better off towards the back of the store—especially if it's a smaller store. The further it is away from the front just makes it harder for those folks to grab it. And also, the ATM needs to be fastened down to the floor or the wall very securely. If nothing else, that slows them down and it gives more of an opportunity for authorities to show up and stop the crime in progress. They will hit stores after hours so there's nobody there and that doesn't increase the penalties. It again turns into more of a property crime than anything else so the punishment is less severe if they do get caught."

The property damage can be extensive, with replacement ATMs costing more than $30,000. Storefronts are often ripped open, which is what happened at the Walgreens on York Road last week

According to an FBI briefing in Houston, where there have been an alarming number of these thefts, criminals favor stolen vehicles like Ford and Chevy trucks and vans. They case out the stores before making their move.

FBI Atm Disruption Strategy Unclassified Nov 2020 by WJZ on Scribd

Some insurers warn business owners rates could be on the rise because of the thefts. A number of banks are taking extra security measures including using tracking devices and exploding ink inside of the ATMs.

Despite the issues, Tente does not think store owners will remove the cash machines from their businesses. "Especially for the smaller stores, that ATM is a big asset to them because it does bring people into the store. My guess is most will take the bad with the good and do the best they can to try and reduce crime in their area."


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