Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The ATM attacks: Call for lower limits

Yet another mugging in Bangalore. The modus operandi is
a) Find software or BPO company employees going back home at wee hours of the morning
b) Stop them; overpower them and take their ATM cards
c) Take them to an ATM machine and make them reveal their PIN numbers
d) Withdraw cash
e) Throw them out on the road somewhere

Attempts to resist or give false PIN numbers attracts brutal violence and frankly, money is less important than your life. But obviously there should be some protection, with banks offering MASSIVE withdrawal limits of upto Rs. 25,000 per day on ATM cards! How do you ensure that a) you're alive and b) you're not bankrupt?

Madman suggested something that might be very helpful in such circumstances:
Idea #1: An alternate PIN that has a lower ATM withdrawal limit.
This means you can give a mugger the alternate pin and he'll only be able to withdraw, say, Rs. 4,000. (If this is too low the mugger may take out his frustration on you, violently) You'll get off for lesser.

1) Are you going to ever remember this "other" PIN?
2) If this strategy becomes ubiquitous, won't the muggers simply go on beating you up till you give up the main PIN?

While chances for the above are low, it may be a way to get muggers out of the way (after all, they don't have too much time on their hands). The bigger issue is that banks have to seriously upgrade their infrastructure and software, which I believe they'll groan about - they always groan when they have to give money.
(Also mentioned at: halfbakery.com)

Idea #2: A "panic" PIN
If this PIN is entered, the ATM goes into ALARM mode and sounds a hooter, sends a message to the bank + police control room etc. A camera in the ATM gets active.

But you may get killed: after all the police in India takes a while to arrive and the robbers may just decide to snuff out your life for the trouble created. Additionally, these events happen so late at night that this option may not at all be effective.
(Got the name from halfbakery.com.)

Idea #3: Two bank accounts, one with a lower limit
Considering that most banks' infrastructure only allows one card per account, each account holder should have multiple accounts (with the same bank) - the "second" account will have a small balance (say Rs. 4,000). ATM cards are given for both accounts, but you will only carry this "second" account's ATM card with you - leave the other one at home.

The idea is:
1) if you get mugged, you only have the second ATM card, limited to the balance.
2) If you urgently need cash for yourself, you have upto Rs. 4,000 immediately and more when you get home.

The only downside is to have to maintain two pins, and two different bank accounts. But in this age of netbanking and phone banking, you can easily transfer money between your accounts without any human interaction.

From an implementation perspective:
1) Idea #1: Banks haven't yet implemented it though some have "NetSafe" cards, like HDFC for Internet transactions with a pre-assigned credit limit. These can't be used for ATM withdrawals, though. So Idea #1 is not feasible unless banks upgrade software, meaning not possible today.
2) Idea #2: For this, the banks and police have to get involved, co-operate and spend money on infrastructure (sirens, network alarms, cameras etc.) If you know the state of co-operation of these two entities, you will understand why I say this is not possible today.
3) Idea #3: Most banks will allow you this privilege, and if they need an excuse, create a "joint" account with your spouse or parents or siblings. Inter-account transfer is very easy, at least with HDFC Netbanking, and I'm sure it's possible with other banks as well. In short, you can do this today.

If you are a BPO or Software Company employee, or in fact anyone keeping late hours, please consider the above options carefully. If you know friends who work late or need to walk in dark areas, please let them know too.

(Yes, the real problem is the muggers themselves: but in big city disparities of income, such incidents will invariably happen. We have too small a police force to protect our population; we need to protect ourselves. Forming citizen-watch groups in residential neighbourhoods, learning martial arts, carrying pepper spray or a weapon you are trained to use etc. are options to solve that problem. That is another day, another blog post)


Blogger Rupali_Srivastava said...

If a software company makes you work late it must take the complete responsibility of your safe return right till your door and not expect you to find your own travel means.

If you care for your security, avoid late hours in case of no travel arrangements by the company.Dont try to be a heroic

These days IT companies are becomming shoddier by the day in the way they treat their employees.

1:32 AM, July 26, 2006  
Blogger Prime Minsiter of India (a.k.a Pradhan Mantri) said...

Terrific insight for an Old Economist Sardarji Prime Minister. I will be reading your stuff.

9:25 PM, July 26, 2006  
Anonymous Someone you know! said...

How about scratching the magnetic strip of the ATM card? Agreed this might not be feasible all the time but something people with long nails/car keys could try.

This may also cause the extra hassle of getting a new ATM card. I like Option# 3 the most but scratching the card could be worth a try if you are stuck in a muggy situation.

3:00 AM, August 04, 2006  
Blogger Sharath Rao said...

another possible consequence ( though somewhat less likely ) of "alternate" pin is that this :

lower pin : limit Rs. 1000

higher pin : limit Rs. 3000

you will get beaten anyway...how do you convince the other guy that Rs.3000 is indeed the higher pin :)

KRECian here too. a good 7 years later :)

8:51 PM, February 22, 2007  
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