Ad warns ATMs can make users vulnerable to crime

By Jim Piggott, General assignment reporter, jpiggott@wjxt.com
Steve Patrick, Managing editor of digital content, spatrick@news4jax.com
Published On: Jan 20 2014 06:18:50 PM EST
Updated On: Jan 20 2014 06:46:35 PM EST

You know it's convenient--cash at an ATM--but thieves do, too. That's the message in a newspaper ad; who's behind this warning to Jacksonville residents.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

ATM are an easy way to get cash, but one man is warning that using them can make you more vulnerable to becoming a victim of crime.

Joe Zingher is so committed to spreading the message that using ATMs can be dangerous that he paid for a full-page ad warning about them in Monday's Florida Times-Union.

The ad cites some startling statistics. It says that eight murders, 124 robberies, 26 rapes, 25 abductions and 14 disappearance, three aggravated batteries and two carjackings occurred at ATMs in Duval County between 2007 and last summer.

The problem is the list is far from accurate. Because the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office was closed Monday, Channel 4 could not confirm details with authorities, but in the station's records, we could find no murders at or near ATMS in Jacksonville over the past five years

But we did find that, in some of the cases, money withdrawn from ATMs was a factor in a crime. For instance, Virginia Harritt was murdered in her home in 2007. The man arrested for the crime -- a 25-year-old maintenance worker -- was seen using her ATM card after her death.

Given that much of the information Zingher is using is at the least exaggerated and that he's not a member of the local community, we looked into Zingher's background. It didn't take long to uncover that Zinger owns a patent for an ATM code that would alert authorities when someone is being forced to make a withdrawal or that a crime is being committed.

Zingher says his patent is about to expire, and his ad is about awareness.

"My goal at this point is to get people looking into what has been going on," Zingher said. "There have been efforts over the year to track the problem, and every time it seems to get sidelined."

Zinger and his attorney say they are pushing the Florida Legislature to pass laws that would require mandatory reporting of ATM crimes and list them as a separate felony.

"What I expect to gain from this is satisfaction," Zingher said.

Channel 4's Crime and Safety Analyst Ken Jefferson said using caution around ATMs is common sense, but there's no need to create panic.

"It gives you the wow effect," Jefferson said. "But having a law enforcement background and dealing with this all the time, I don't see 'wow' on the surface being totally valid."

Zingher says his invention of an emergency PIN code has been ignored, but he says that is not why he placed the advertisement. He wants people to be aware of how crimes could be linked to these convenient machines.

Jefferson thinks that's a valid point.

"For the most part people realize when they go to an ATM machine they need to be aware of their surroundings, and they need to watch for suspicious activity, but sometimes they get careless," Jefferson said.

Because of the holiday, bank managers were not available to discuss the ad. A vice president of Jax Federal Credit Union says that ATM safety is of vital importance, adding the credit union not hiding anything when it comes to crimes that occur. He said the credit union has taken major steps to improve the safety of people who use its machines.

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