One of the major advantages of a cash-less economy often touted by analysts is that the use of Automated Teller Machines reduces crime.
However, CRIME DIGEST investigations show that criminals now prefer to loiter around ATMs installed outside bank premises at odd hours of the day and pretend to be engrossed in one activity or another, while waiting to pounce on potential victims.
The criminals have devised a new means of making a living: robbing ATMs and those that use them.
The same process applies to ATMs which are sited within banks premises that are not walled. Once a customer finishes withdrawing cash from the machines, he is immediately attacked by robbers. Many people have been kidnapped and their vehicles stolen because they stopped by to make a cash withdrawal from an ATM.
Recently Crime Digest reported the arrest of three kidnappers by a team of policemen attached to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Lagos. The criminals had held a cousin of wealthy businessman, Aliko Dangote hostage. Although they hardly knew their victim’s identity, they simply zeroed in on him from their vantage position near the Polo Club in Ikoyi, when they saw him withdrawing some cash from an ATM at about 11 pm. With only a few people on the road at that time of the day and no witnesses, the kidnappers had within a few minutes violently taken their victim away at gunpoint.
In another report, a gang of carjackers arrested by the SARS in Lagos confessed to robbing a victim through the same means. Members of the gang worked as private drivers by day and at night, they turned car jackers. They told CRIME DIGEST that they had stolen a Ford Escape jeep at Osapa London in the Ajah area. They got the opportunity when the owner of vehicle stopped by to make a withdrawal from an ATM, which was close by late that night. Not only did the robbers make away with the jeep, the sum of N10,000, which their victim had just withdrawn was also seized.
When armed criminals are not loitering around ATMs installed outside commercial banks at night, they are busy breaking into the ones located within the premises, sometimes with the active connivance of insiders and at other times, with brute force. This development has made it difficult for the security personnel of many banks to open up their gates at night when customers stop by to use ATMs.
Last June, five gunmen reportedly broke into the premises of a branch of a new generation bank in FESTAC Town, tied up the security guards and with the aid of chisels and two gas cylinders, proceeded to steal the sum of N3.5m from the ATM.
However, 18 hours after the incident, the police were able to recover the stolen money and arrest four of the suspected robbers.
A security guard working with one of the commercial banks on Ogunnusi Road in Ojodu said that most banks in the area would not open their gates late at night to ATM users.
He said, “There is no way I am going to open the gate and admit a customer into the bank premises who wants to withdraw money at midnight. It is not possible because I cannot tell if the person is armed and intends to commit crime. All the banks on this road have had their ATMs vandalised and broken into recently. Even this bank whose ATM is located within the bank premises has been robbed before.
“I don’t admit any customer after 9 pm. If it is later than that, the person would have to look for another ATM that is not sited within a bank premises. It is even in the interest of any bank customer not to go about using ATMs late at night. The person may be risking his life because you can never tell if a criminal is lurking in the shadows.”
But on the busy Oba Akran Road, a different situation prevailed. A security personnel attached to one of the commercial banks said that the ATM was available to customers for 24 hours, though he declined to mention the security arrangement that made it possible. “We do not close our gates to any customer who wants to use the ATM, no matter how late. This is a 24hr service,” he said.
In another development, two prominent hotels in the Akowonjo and Ikeja areas were attacked by suspected robbers. The attacks came barely three weeks after a similar incident occurred in a hotel in Shasha and the guests were robbed and taken hostage.
In all the three incidents, the robbers had pretended to be customers and operated unchallenged.
CRIME DIGEST had on September 22 reported a robbery attack in a popular hotel on Shasha, which claimed the life of one person. While some residents claimed the deceased was a guest of the hotel, others said he was a security guard in the Shasha neighbourhood.
A resident informed CRIME DIGEST that the robbers seemed to have acted on inside information. She said, “They trailed a guest to the hotel. They must have known that he was in possession of a large amount of money at the time. After they had verified that the man had checked in as a guest, they started to rob everyone in the hotel. They went from room to room. They eventually got to their target and robbed him of a huge sum of money and even raped some women in the hotel.”
While the robbers were operating in the hotel, nobody in the neighbourhood knew what was going on. A neighbourhood security guard, who was in the hotel at the time, was said to have been identified by one of the robbers and shot dead.
The guests were so frightened that even after the criminals had left, they continued to lie down with their faces on the floor until a man who was in the hotel before the robbery returned to retrieve an item that he had forgotten there.