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Latest UK ATM explosion heist highlights growing criminal trend

26 October 2017

UK police are searching for thieves who blew up a cash machine in an explosion that shook homes more than two miles away in the early hours of October 26. The blast happened at a Co-operative Bank cashpoint outside a Matalan store in Darlington in north eastern England, leaving a large amount of debris spread over the adjacent car park. 

Stock image
Stock image

Police said the raiders may have miscalculated the amount of gas or explosive material needed and it was possible one of them may have been injured.

The trend of blowing up ATMs with gas, usually oxyacetylene, started in 2005 in Eastern Europe. It has since spread across the continent, with the first recorded UK attack taking place in March 2013. By April 2015 there had been more than 100 in the UK, mostly around Bristol and South Wales, with incidents spreading out across the country in the last two years.

In April 2017, a gang of seven men that caused explosions at cash machines around England and Scotland were jailed for a total of 92 years. The Merseyside-based group stole more than £550,000 and caused more than £160,000 worth of damage in attacks on ATMs at 13 banks and supermarkets, police said.

The usual technique is to pipe gas into the cash dispenser slot and ignite it. If the resulting blast is of the right amplitude, the rear door of the ATM inside the building or lobby will have been blown off, leaving the perpetrators to gain entry to the building, slide open the cash drawers and take the money.

There have been instances where too much gas has been used and the ATM and the cash inside has been completely destroyed.

Banks have introduced a number of security measures to counter this criminal trend. ATM manufacturers now offer various anti-gas-attack modules: some absorb shock waves, some detect gas and render it harmless, and some emit sound, fog, or dye to discourage thieves in the act. They sometimes also include geolocation devices in the cash piles to enable police to catch the criminals after the act.

A report in October by the EU Association of Secure Transactions (EAST) on ATM crime covering the first six months of 2017 said attacks took place in eleven countries. The report revealed the scale of the problem:

“ATM related physical attacks rose 6% when compared with H1 2016 (up from 1,604 to 1,696 incidents).  Within this total ATM explosive attacks (including explosive gas and solid explosive attacks) were down 2% (down from 492 to 481 incidents).  Losses due to ATM related physical attacks were €12.2 million, a 55% drop from the €27 million reported during the same period in 2016.  Part of this decrease is due to the fact that one major ATM deploying country that used to report this data is currently unable to do so.

“The average cash loss per explosive or gas attack is estimated at €14,575, the average cash loss for a robbery is €10,357 per incident and the average cash loss for a ram raid or burglary attack is €9,761.  These figures do not take into account collateral damage to equipment or buildings, which can be significant and often exceeds the value of the cash lost in successful attacks.”


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