An old urban myth is getting passed around by email again, and it’s as false as it ever was, even though there are new, ugly reasons to wish it were true.
The bogus email says that, if you’re ever forced by a robber to withdraw money from an ATM, you can send a silent alarm to police by punching in your PIN number in reverse.
It’s not true, and it has never been, but the rumor persists. We have shot down the “backward ATM” rumor, as have numerous others, including Snopes, the Internet myth-buster.
But the rumor persists, and is making the rounds again. “All ATM’s carry this emergency sequencer by law” is the subject line on the one I’ve seen (screenshot reproduced on this page — click it to enlarge). It also repeats another falsehood by stating the “information was recently broadcast on Crime Stoppers.” Uh, no.
I can see why the rumor persists. It’s such a calming whisper — that hidden technology can give you an edge in a desperate situation.
Congress liked the urban myth enough to mandate an FTC study of the reverse PIN idea. It came back: Sorry. Not cost-effective. Probably not needed.
Unfortunately, a slew of new victims forced at gunpoint to drain their bank accounts at ATMs. In the past several weeks, and perhaps that’s what restarted the email rumor mill.
Reports of the crime have been reported in or around: Houston; Bridgeport, Conn.; Homer, Alaska; Torrance, Calif.; and St. Louis.
We spoke to Capt. Henry “Wally” Wieghat of the East District Patrol in Humble, Texas, north of Houston, where a string of such robberies have prompted the Harris County Constable’s office to step up patrols.
Wieghat hadn’t heard of the reverse-PIN number rumor, but offered some real tips for people when using their ATMs.
“The biggest thing people can do is be aware of their surroundings,” he says. Keep an eye out, he says and use ATMs in a busy area with lots of people around. “We all get complacent sometimes, we need to be very careful watching who’s around us.” Criminals “look for easy prey — people make themselves easy victims by not paying attention.”
Finally, “When you leave the ATM, check your rear-view mirror make sure no one is following is you.”
That’s the only backward thing the real authorities advise you to do.