Crime: The great danger of ATM blasts

Destroyed rooms, damaged facades, broken glass on the floor: After an ATM has been blown up, police officers often find a picture of devastation.

Crime: The great danger of ATM blasts

Destroyed rooms, damaged facades, broken glass on the floor: After an ATM has been blown up, police officers often find a picture of devastation. Hundreds of such cases occur in Germany every year - and the trend is rising. Banks are accused of not having enough protective measures, and politicians are being accused of not intervening enough. The trail to the perpetrators often leads abroad. A changed approach makes the crimes much more dangerous.

According to the Federal Criminal Police Office, explosives are now used in the blasting instead of gas mixtures, which means that perpetrators are more successful, it said at the request of the German Press Agency. The crimes result in even greater damage to property and more danger to people. There are still many ATMs in residential buildings.

"We can be really happy that no one has died in Germany so far," says Oliver Huth from the Association of German Criminal Investigators. "Meanwhile, the Sprenger take black powder from New Year's firecrackers and build something with it. That can be really dangerous."

According to Huth, the perpetrators try to destroy the casing of the machine with a first explosive device, the second set is then placed on the safe to open the machine.

The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) assumes a maximum number of ATMs blown up in the past year. Around 500 attempted and completed ATM demolitions are expected in Germany.

In 2021 there were 392 acts - the previous maximum was 414 cases in 2020. In 2022, these crimes have risen sharply in many federal states compared to the year before - according to the State Criminal Police Office in Rhineland-Palatinate there were more than twice as many with 56 instead of 23 cases.

Action is not always successful

According to the BKA, around 40 percent of cases ended unsuccessfully last year - i.e. without cash. In the previous five years, this percentage was even higher, at more than 50 percent. For 2022, the BKA did not yet have any figures on the amount stolen, they are expecting a sum in the mid double-digit millions.

Many of the perpetrators come from a neighboring country

Many of the alleged perpetrators come from the Netherlands - according to the BKA, a little more than half of the around 120 suspects came from the neighboring country in 2021. Suspects in recent years were therefore also traveling perpetrators from Eastern Europe - especially from Poland, Romania and Moldova.

Huth calls for more support from the Netherlands in the fight against crime: "There are three important phases of the crime. The pre-crime phase, the crime phase and the night-time crime phase. And the pre-crime phase happens to take place in the Netherlands."

The Dutch are investigating together with the Germans against the automatic sprinklers. For example, in the case of the gang that was busted in the Netherlands in February. They are said to be responsible for about 50 raids, mainly in Bavaria and Baden Württemberg.

Neighboring federal states in particular in focus

Blown-up ATMs are a problem, especially in the federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, which border the Netherlands - according to the two state criminal investigation offices, there were 250 crimes in the federal states last year - around half of the nationwide cases.

While the number of blasts in Germany rose sharply, it fell significantly in the Netherlands. In 2019, 71 cases were registered, compared to only nine last year. The number of machines has been significantly reduced in the neighboring country.

Demands for more bank safeguards

After blasts, interior and judicial politicians repeatedly demand increased protective measures from the banks. It is about more video surveillance or systems with which the cash is colored or glued and is therefore unusable.

Lower Saxony's Interior Minister Daniela Behrens (SPD) says that the German banking industry has committed itself to the Federal Interior Minister to take a number of measures. In June there will be further talks with the banks at federal level.

Huth calls on politicians and banks to take more decisive action. "You can't accuse banks of not doing anything, but they don't do enough. How many ATMs do we still have in residential buildings? I can't understand that."

Banks reject criticism

A spokesman for the German banking industry, which claims to include all five major German banking associations, rejected the criticism. Banks use security concepts for their ATMs, which aim at the highest possible level of prevention through various measures.

Look at other countries

According to Huth, other countries have stricter legal requirements. In Portugal, for example, ATM operators have been obliged to implement minimum technical requirements for ATMs since 2003. The commissioning of a machine must be reported to the police.