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BEACH PARK, Ill. – Joseph Zingher holds a patent for a technology he believes could sharply decrease the incidence of robbery and physical assaults at the nation’s Automated Teller Machines if he can only get financial institutions to try it out. Zingher has named the software fix Safety PIN and has been promoting it for over five years on his Web site, Zicubedatm.com. The software would enable an ATM user who might be at the machine under duress, essentially being forced to withdraw cash by an assailant, to enter their personal identification number in a reverse or otherwise altered order to signal that they were in trouble. The ATM machine, Zingher says, would still recognize the transaction and still release the cash, but it would also generate a phone call or message to either the police or the financial institution’s security service that a robbery was taking place at the ATM. Police could then arrive in time to apprehend the criminals and prevent an even further assault. Zingher, who currently works as a lawyer, has even structured the Safety PIN software so that it can handle what he calls Inside-Out PIN and the Plus-1 PIN. An inside out PIN would be for people whose PINs are the same backwards and forwards, such as 4224. The inside out version of this number would 2442. Plus-1 PINs would take a PIN of 4444 and make it 5555. “It would really be very difficult to make a mistake and enter a mistaken alarm with this technology,” Zingher explained. He added the PINs would help with people who, against their financial institution’s advice, still write their PIN on their cards. Now, if they did so, they would simply write it down and if their card were being used by a thief, the thief would enter the reverse ATM number and summon the police, Zingher added. Industry Less Open To Idea While they stress that they are very serious about reducing crime at ATMs, both bank and credit union sources familiar with the technology expresses reservations about its widespread use. “We just doubt it would be effective,” said John Hall, spokesman for the American Banker’s Association. Hall and other banking and credit union critics voiced the opinion that, should a person be forced to make an ATM withdrawal at gunpoint, they would probably not be able to remember their PIN in reverse and that the ensuing delays or faulting at the keypad might make the assailant even more dangerous. The concerns appeared in a recent letter from the Kansas Bankers Association to Kansas State Senator Phil Journey. Journey is preparing legislation that would mandate that any ATM operated in the state of Kansas have the reverse PIN capability and the KBA opposes it. “The Banking Department in Illinois did a legislatively mandated study of the `reverse PIN’ system and found that `a consumer may be under too much emotional stress to properly utilize the system, the system would be tremendously costly to implement both as to hardware and software requirements, quick response by the police is not guaranteed and no evidence exists that the reverse PIN system would actually reduce crime,” he wrote in his December 22 letter. But Zingher calls these objections a “false issue” and pointed out that other safety measures, such as airbags on cars, do not work perfectly all the time either and yet still save lives. He also noted that just having the system in place would have a deterrent affect. “You will have people who can always use it, people who can never use it and people who can use it sometimes. With that in mind, how does the criminal know in advance who will and will not be able to use it? Remember too, that those who can use it will generate an umbrella effect for those who can’t. We’ll see far more arrests in these cases no matter how the numbers work out because right now, the theoretical chance of someone calling for help is zero.” What’s Happening At The State Level? Currently only one state, Illinois, has a law on the books about the technology. The Illinois law, passed and signed last year, permits a financial institution to use the technology but does not mandate that it do so. So far, none have. Keith Sias, Director of State Governmental Affairs for the Illinois Credit Union League said that the League opposed the bill when it was first introduced and would have made the technology mandatory, but took a “neutral” position on it as a voluntary measure. However the League has also advised Illinois credit unions not to use the technology and to focus on more traditional ATM safety measures. “We just had some doubts about how effective it would be and also we had our operations people unsure about what it would take from an operational perspective,” Sias said. In Kansas, much of the energy behind Senator Journey’s interest in the bill stems from a relatively recent attack which gave the issue a lot of attention. In December 2000, Reginald and Jonathan Carr invaded a home in Wichita, Kansas, and severely beat and assaulted the five young men and two young women inside. The two then took the young people, one by one, to an ATM and forced them to withdraw as much money as they could. They later attempted to murder all of them and did kill four. The fifth, a young woman survived. An examination of the trial transcripts from the case suggest that, had the Reverse PIN technology been in place it might have made a difference. In her testimony the surviving young woman, using just her initials H.G., recounted how the five young people were taken partially nude, one by one, to an ATM and how, in her case, the assailant did not watch her make the transaction but rather stayed low in the truck that she drove. Since he asked her to make multiple transactions it appears that she might have been able to enter her Reverse PIN in at least one of them had the technology been available. Bill Henry, director of government affairs for the Kansas Credit Union Association, said Senator Journey had approached him about the bill but that he had not seen it yet. Senator Journey intends to introduce his legislation in the coming week. Uniformity May Be The Key Jim Hanisch, executive vice president with the CO-OP Network, the largest credit union owned and fee-free ATM network in the country, said CO-OP was familiar with the technology and not opposed to it on principle. But he also said that the cooperative had some concerns about implementation. “We really think this is something which needs to be done in a uniform way, if it is done at all.” Hanisch said. “From our standpoint, it doesn’t sound too difficult or expensive to do, but if we have to try to do it for ATMs in one state and not in another, that gets really messy.” Hanisch said that from his perspective it sounded like the technology would have to be implemented in the card issuing processor’s computer since that would be the one which could recognize the reverse PIN and could trigger a call or message to the designated authority. Hanisch also said that current ATM technology could likely already handle the Reverse PIN and, John Hall, the ABA spokesman admitted that some banks might already have a similar technology in place for their employees to use in an emergency. -

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