And the ATM customer walked away …

We had a call from Footscray Police Station late one Friday night.

We’ve had a man walk in with $200 claiming that he found it sitting in the ATM cash dispenser cradle.  Can you tell us who the owner of the money is?

This was back in the days when we didn’t have privacy laws, so we duly verified who the customer was, and rang Footscray Police back.  Footscray Police told us later that the customer was very happy to be re-united with their cash.

Nowadays this wouldn’t happen because:

  1. Privacy laws would prevent us passing that information on to the police, and more importantly
  2. Automatic Teller Machines will now retract the money if the customer doesn’t take it.

To elaborate on point 2.  The final part of the cash dispenser path is where the cash is presented to the customer.  On most* ATMs, there is a light sensor which detects whether the customer has grabbed the cash.  After a period of time (30+ seconds generally), the ATM will take the cash back, assuming that the customer has walked away.

Which led to an interesting fraud.

Some clever person realised that if you broke the light sensor, the ATM wouldn’t know that you took the cash, and then the ATM would cancel the transaction.  We had an ATM emptied of cash over a weekend due to this fraud.  Once the fraud was discovered, NCR developed a fix to prevent the problem occurring again.

NCR5080 * the exception being the NCR 5080 ATM, which had a cash cradle.  The ATM would drop the cash into a cradle and then consider the transaction completed.  The Footscray ATM was one of these.