Can technology thwart violent ATM crimes, save lives?

Michael Fazzio died horrifically in March after crooks confronted him in his Gloucester County home, demanding his debit card. The robbers duct taped his arms and legs and then tied a comforter around his head. As he was dying of asphyxiation, the assailants used a Clayton ATM to pillage $500 from Fazzio’s bank account.

Two men have been arrested in the killing, but is it possible that authorities could have saved Fazzio, 56, whose body was found by a relative three days after the robbery? Could countless other ATM crimes have been prevented or quickly solved with technology that has been available since the 1990s?

Joe Zingher thinks so.

That’s when the Chicago businessman received a patent for emergency PINs that allow cardholders to create a code that when used would dispense cash while secretly alerting police that a crime is unfolding.

But Zingher got nowhere — even after Illinois enacted watered down legislation in 2004 asking banks to adopt the technology in the face of growing ATM crime. The banks ignored the request.

Zingher believes banks are resisting the technology because of costs. His patent has expired, while other companies, also now defunct, created similar safety measures. Zingher, who cannot profit from the technology anymore, says banks have successfully downplayed ATM crime, leaving the public unaware of the need for more protection.

“Worldwide, the banking industry has used its political control over countries to prevent police from tracking forced ATM withdrawals because it would harm the business model, and, in doing so, they made it easier for criminals to avoid arrest,” says Zingher.

The banking industry has argued that victims could be put at more risk struggling to remember a safety code and that there could be false reports if someone accidentally used a safety PIN. Zingher rejects the arguments, likening the example of a bumbling victim to the attitude that if the technology can’t save everyone, then the industry will save no one.

“Even if they adopt it, I don’t make any money. But, that was 22 years of murders, rapes, abductions, and torture that I could have stopped or minimized,” says Zingher.

It is not known how many ATM crimes are committed in the United States. The FBI does not require that law enforcement agencies to keep ATM crime statistics. In 2016, the latest year statistics are available, there were 4,200 bank robberies reported in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. That does not reflect customers robbed at bank ATMs or other businesses.

Here are some of the more violent cases:

  • Bergen County, N.J, man was kidnapped at gunpoint in an Atlantic City parking garage in 2010 by Craig Arno, 52, and Jessica Kisby, 31. The couple, now serving lengthy prison sentences, told authorities the victim looked like he had money. They stole his debit card, locked him in the trunk of his Lincoln SUV, and went directly to an ATM. After they confirmed his PIN, they drove around for about an hour before stopping on a secluded road at a Mays Landing farm. There, they stabbed the victim to death.
  • In 2015, a woman was kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to an ATM in Philadelphia. Five days later, the same career criminal abducted a 28-year-old doctor on her way to work at a Center City hospital. She was forced at gunpoint to an ATM. The robber, Nathaniel Rodriguez, is now serving an 18-year sentence. Both victims wrote court statements describing the anxiety that haunted them afterward, and leaves them living in fear.
  • On, Oct. 2, a manhunt unfolded in Central Pennsylvania for a duo who kidnapped a man in a parking garage in Cumberland County. The kidnappers ordered the victim into their truck at gunpoint, and drove him into the woods in Perry County. There, they made him remove some of his clothing, and bound him with duct tape. They stole his keys, phone, and wallet. The victim was found by a hunter after the kidnappers used his debit card at various ATMs in Cumberland County. John William Williams, 47, and Charmayne Patricia Maddy, 45, of Dauphin County were arrested Oct. 7.

If the victims in these cases had been able to use safety PINs correctly, police might have intervened earlier to make arrests, possibly preventing the deaths of Fazzio, the Bergen County man, and the kidnapping of the doctor, Zingher says.

Legislation to mandate financial institutions to use the technology for consumer safety has failed. The Federal Trade Commission, ordered to study ATM crimes and safety technology, concluded in a 2010 report that the data and technology information “are very limited and are inadequate for a rigorous analysis.” Officials with the FBI, FTC, and two local law enforcement agencies (the Philadelphia Police Department and Camden County Prosecutor’s Office) were unable to provide statistics on ATM-related kidnappings, or forced withdrawals.

It is not known how many ATM robbery cases resemble the cases in which victims were killed.

Camera icon Salem County Jail
Thomas Bergholz (left) and Lawrence Bohrer are charged in the slaying of Michael Fazzio.

In the Gloucester County case, Fazzio, 58, of Elk Township, was assaulted in his home late at night. Authorities say on March 10, the assailants stole Fazzio’s his debit card. They bound his wrists and ankles with duct tape, restrained him with an electrical cord, and tied a comforter over his head. It is unclear when Fazzio died. His body was found on March 13.

On May 2, officials announced the arrest of Thomas J. Bergholz, 33, of Franklin Township, and Lawrance A. Bohrer, 47, of Pittsgrove. They remain in jail pending trial. Investigators had ATM surveillance video of  the assailants, wearing unique clothing, and using Fazzio’s debit card. Authorities confiscated the clothing at the time of the arrests, which they said contained Fazzio’s DNA.

Here’s how the technology might have saved Fazzio.

When the pair demanded Fazzio’s PIN, he could have given them a safety PIN instead of the one used for legitimate withdraws. When the safety PIN was entered at an ATM, police immediately would have been alerted of a crime in progress, which becomes a priority over less serious matters.

Besides providing the location of the ATM, the technology would have given police Fazzio’s address, allowing them to go to his home, where he may have still been alive.

But for now, it’s all hypothetical without widespread use of the technology.