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I-Team: ATM Security Bill Gains Support In Mass.

By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve
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WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve Joe Shortsleeve
Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – A criminal lurks in the shadows and robs a customer at a bank ATM. It’s a common crime that could target any one of us. And it could easily turn violent.

Last summer, a horrific crime unfolded in Boston. Twenty-four-year-old Amy Lord was abducted by a stranger, and before he allegedly killed her, authorities say Edwin Alemany took Lord to five bank ATMs, forcing her to withdraw money.

“There but for the grace of God go any one of our daughters or sisters or granddaughters,” says State Senator Brian Joyce, who for 15 years has tried but failed to pass a law making sure banks install basic security measures at their ATMs. “What is incredibly frustrating to me is that we have the technology available to avoid these tragedies, and I think that could have been avoided,” he says.

Joyce’s bill would require bank ATMs to have adequate lighting, card-activated doors that work, transparent glass, interior mirrors, and a panic button or reverse PIN number to alert police.

“Apparently I wasn’t going fast enough or whatever and he pulled the trigger and shot me,” says David Breen, who was robbed at gunpoint at a bank ATM in New York City. Breen barely survived and, after moving to Massachusetts in the 1990′s, convinced a state lawmaker to file the state’s first ATM security bill. More than 15 years have passed and the Legislature has taken no action. “Disappointment would be the obvious word, but it’s anger too,” Breen says. “I mean this is a situation that has come up time and time again.”

Twenty-two robberies of bank ATM customers were reported by the media last year in Massachusetts. ATM robbers who struck last year were almost always armed, mostly with guns or knives, but also with a box cutter, a screwdriver and in two robberies, hypodermic needles.

The I-Team found many bank ATMs have poor lighting and door locks that are broken, or can be opened with just about any card in your wallet, including a Starbucks card. Enhanced safety features and some type of emergency alert system at ATMs certainly sounds like a good idea, something everybody could support. But it’s not.

“There are very few robberies,” says Daniel Forte, president of the Massachusetts Bankers Association, a group that’s paid Beacon Hill lobbyists $1.3 million since 2003, partly to block ATM security legislation. “It’s a very safe transaction,” Forte says. “If a robber were there and saw you push the 911 button, that could become a much more violent situation for the robbery.”

We asked Forte if he thought Amy Lord might be alive today if she had been able to activate some sort of emergency number or emergency PIN number in one of those ATMs. “Our hearts and our prayers go out to that family,” Forte says. “But as far as we can see, in that instance, there was really nothing else the banks could have done.”

Breen disagrees, saying the banks bear some responsibility for fighting against ATM security legislation for almost two decades.

“I think to some extent they have blood on their hands,” he says.

Alemany has pleaded not guilty to Lord’s murder.

In the wake of that tragedy, Senator Joyce’s ATM security bill now has 18 co-sponsors in the Legislature.

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