Co-op to spray ATM thieves and stolen cash with traceable gel

The Co-op is rolling out a new scheme across the United Kingdom that sprays ATM thieves and the money they steal from the group’s cash dispensers with a traceable gel.

Made by forensic technology company SmartWater, the gel provides a unique “forensic fingerprint” that is guaranteed to last for 5 years. Forensic, in this context, means the application of scientific methods to combat or solve crimes.

Old Street Shoreditch Co-op storeThe technology is effective regardless of how ATM thieves try to attack the cash machines.
Image: Co-op store in Old Street, Shoreditch. Credit: Co-op Group.

Even a tiny speck that is invisible to the naked eye is enough to link a contaminated suspect or bank note with the crime scene.

Pilot reduced ATM crime by 90 percent

Chris Whitfield, Director of Retail and Logistics at the U.K.’s largest mutual retailer, says that ATM crime affects both customers and communities.

It can have a “disproportionate impact on rural police force areas where cash dispensers are more of a lifeline for residents and the local economy,” he adds.

In a pilot programme in 2016 that involved cash dispensers at 300 locations in the U.K., the scheme reduced ATM crime by 90 percent.

Now, the Co-Op and SmartWater are rolling out the technology to all cash dispensers – around 2,500 of them – located at Co-op food stores around the country.

Tackles all types of ATM attack

In the U.K., ATM thieves use various methods to steal money from cash dispensers. The preferred method varies by region.

For example, in the North West, ATM thieves prefer to cut the cash machine open.

However, in London, the favoured method is the so-called “black box”, where the ATM thieves use a device to hack into the ATM’s controller and instruct it to dispense the cash.

Another method that is dominant in the Eastern and East Midlands regions is to drag out the ATM machine using a heavy vehicle such as a digger or a pick-up truck.

SmartWater say that their “technology is effective regardless of how an ATM comes under attack.”

ATM thieves ‘should take note’

SmartWater CEO and co-founder Phil Cleary says that their technology, which was designed by a former police officer and his scientist brother, has already helped to convict “hundreds of criminals worldwide and retains a 100 percent track record in court.”

The Metropolitan Police and SmartWater are already working together on an initiative called MetTrace to reduce household burglary in Greater London.

Iain Raphael, Detective Chief Superintendent and Enfield Borough Commander, says that all custody areas are fitted with detectors and that they routinely scan all prisoners.

He says that they have also trained and equipped hundreds of patrol staff with the means to detect the trace, and suggests that any “criminals contemplating attacks on Co-op ATM’s should take note.”

“At the forefront of combating ATM crime, this proven technology utilises the latest ATM security capabilities and innovations to cut crime, providing a safer and secure way to deliver a key and convenient service in local communities,” Whitfield concludes.