Mythbusting – If I enter my PIN backwards will the ATM call the police?

11 February 2014 / Published in Tech & Innovation

We’re looking to explain some common banking myths in this new blog series: this time we clear the air around one particular urban legend about ATMs. From time to time we get customers asking us the same question: “If I’m being forced to withdraw money from an ATM and enter my PIN in backwards will the police be dispatched?”

The answer is no. This rumour has existed since the mid-1980s, when some American police departments proposed an ATM PIN system that would do just that, believing it to be an effective way of tracking criminals. It’s been brought into the spotlight again in recent years due to the circulation of an email chain letter hoax in 2006, which has since spread to social networks like Facebook and Tumblr.

There are a number of issues with a system like this. Some people may have reversible PINs such as ‘7667’ or ‘8888’ and these palindromic PINs would become unavailable so that there were no false call outs. Semi-reversible PINs like ‘3783’ or ‘1031’ would also need to be avoided to minimise the risk that someone might accidentally enter their PIN incorrectly (it would only take one number) and call the police. Additionally, if you’re in the stressful situation of being threatened to hand over money at an ATM, it may become difficult to even remember what your PIN is backwards. Even if you did manage to enter your PIN in reverse and the ATM alerted the police it’s highly likely that the criminal would flee the scene as soon as the money is dispensed. The New Zealand Bankers Association and ASB advise against using any of these easy-to-guess PINs on your cards.

Although such technology does exist, it has not been widely rolled out anywhere in the world due to the issues raised above.

Here are some important tips to remember to keep yourself safe when using ATMs:

  • Never use an ATM or EFTPOS terminal that looks like it may have been tampered with.
  • Be careful when you use an ATM to make sure other people can’t see you enter your PIN.
  • Be wary of anyone offering to help - especially if your card has just been retained (eaten) by the ATM.
  • If your card has been retained by an ATM go to the nearest branch or call 0800 803 804 immediately.

Reverse PIN software is not present on any major bank ATM in New Zealand. In an emergency please call 111 immediately.

Find out more about scams from Consumer Affairs.


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