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A viral Facebook post advises ATM users being forced to withdraw cash to enter their PIN backwards to secretly call the police. No ATMs in United States have, or have ever had, this security feature.
Snopes, which also rated the Facebook post false, reported that the image began circulating online in 2006.
The image includes a photo of what appears to be an ATM robbery and the following text:
"If a thief forces you to take money out of an ATM, do not argue or resist. What you do is punch in your pin # backwards. EX: if its 1234, you’ll type 4321. When you do that, the money will come out but will be stuck in the slot. The machine will immediately alert the local police without the robbers knowledge & begin taking photos of the suspect. Every ATM has the feature. Stay safe."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Though this claim is wrong, it doesn’t come out of nowhere.
In 1998, Chicago businessman Joseph Zingher patented a system that recognizes PIN variations as distress signals and calls the police. Zingher pitched his system, called SafetyPIN, to banks and lawmakers in several states.
ATMs with SafetyPIN would enable users to enter their PIN backwards to call the police as the Facebook post describes. Someone with a palindromic PIN — such as 2332 — would enter a different PIN variation to call the police.
Lawmakers in several states — including Illinois, Kansas, and Georgia — have introduced bills that would mandate emergency-PIN technology, but no such laws have gone into effect.
In Illinois, an ATM security law passed, but it only made installing the technology optional.
The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 called on the Federal Trade Commission to create a report to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of installing emergency-PIN technology.
The resulting 2010 report by the FTC determined that the technology never has been implemented. It continues to conclude that "emergency-PIN technologies likely would not have a large impact on ATM crime."
The report said that while the technological concept behind the "reverse-PIN" system has been discussed, the idea that ATM customers can utilize it falls into "the realm of urban legend."
The FTC report also described several problems with systems like SafetyPIN. For instance, people may struggle to recall their PIN variation and enter it without drawing suspicion.
Also, installing emergency-PIN technology could cost millions of dollars, while ATM robberies are a rare crime. According to surveys conducted by the Bank Administration Institute and the American Bankers Association, there is one ATM crime for every 3.5 million transactions. This statistic includes other types of crime besides robbery.
David Tente, executive director of the ATM Industry Association, wrote in a March 21 email to PolitiFact that the idea that reverse-PIN technology is in use is "a myth."
"We oppose all such measures as being ineffective and potentially dangerous for the consumer," Tente wrote. "We do not believe it will deter any criminals. And consumers who would attempt to use such measures could be at risk for being harmed by a nervous criminal."
ATM robberies and myths about emergency-PIN technologies are not unique to the United States. The Australian Bankers’ Association released a fact sheet that said "information circulating in an e-mail about the use of a ‘reverse PIN’ at an ATM is false."
The fact sheet includes several tips about how to stay safe when using an ATM, including scanning the surroundings before approaching an ATM, immediately putting away the money instead of counting it in public, and withdrawing cash at grocery stores or gas stations.
According to the FTC report and industry experts, there are no ATMs with emergency-PIN technology. ATM users being forced to withdraw cash cannot enter their PIN backwards to call the police. Further, this type of security system may not deter crime at ATMs.
For ATM users in distress, entering their PIN backwards will not call the police and could escalate a dangerous situation. We rate the claim False.
Facebook post, March 18, 2019
Email interview, David Tente, executive director of USA & Americas at the ATM Industry Association, March 21, 2019
Snopes, Will Entering Your PIN in Reverse at an ATM Summon the Police?, October 7, 2006
Illinois Legislature, SB-0640 The Electronic Fund Transfer Act, Effective July 1, 2015
Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Economics, Report on Emergency Technology for Use With ATMs, April 2010
WalletHub, ATM PIN Number Reversal: Myth or Reality?, March 3, 2015
Business Insider, There's a viral Facebook post with dangerous and untrue advice about what to do if you get robbed at an ATM — we put it to the test, February 15, 2018
Arizona State University, Robbery at Automated Teller Machines, 2001
United States Patent No. 5731575A, "Computerized system for discreet identification of duress transaction and/or duress access," accessed March 21, 2019
Australian Bankers’ Association, False information circulating on e-mail about PINs, September 2011
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