It would be a gross understatement to call last weekend’s organized crime in bank ATMs in Kolkata as a fraud. More accurately, it was a calibrated loot that has bamboozled both the bank authorities and the police, and has reportedly spread from Jadavpur, where it was detected, to a vast swathe of South Kolkata. And yet five days after the hi-tech robbery, the suspects are yet to be tracked down by the police, save to suspect ~ apparently without much basis ~ that the culprits are probably of Romanian, Turkish or Bulgarian origin.

It is difficult to imagine that they could have operated as smoothly as they did without being in cahoots with local contacts and middlemen. Of course, the victims have been assured by their respective banks that their money will be refunded; but this cannot obfuscate the fundamental deficiencies in terms of security, indeed a lapse for which the bank managements must accept blame. Maybe the ATM kiosks don’t need to be manned, but most if not all of them function unguarded. Which precisely makes it convenient for the criminals, home-grown or offshore, to have a free run of these vital adjuncts to banking operations. Police have now confirmed that the ATMs were unguarded. The perceived convenience in effecting transactions has thus been compromised.

It is direly imperative for the banks to conduct a security audit of all ATMs and submit a report if they detect any criminal offence has been carried out. Gun-toting watchdogs in uniform ought not to patrol only the interiors of banks. A similarly foolproof security apparatus must of necessity be introduced in the ATM kiosks 24 X 7.

If indeed skimming is an essential part of the criminal operations, it beggars belief that anti-skimming machines are yet to be installed, despite a directive from the Reserve Bank of India. It is cause for alarm that no fewer than 59 complaints have been filed over the past few days from banks in Jadavpur, Tolygunge, Karaya and Netaji Nagar… with the stolen money amounting to Rs 13.2 lakh. One could argue that this isn’t a huge sum that has been looted from several banks; the nub of the matter must be that the daring robbery can happen even in high-security establishments.

Notable is the sudden increase in the number of vital parameters ~ specifically the number of complaints, the number of affected ATMs, and the geographical spread of the banks. Prudence would suggest that a joint operation by the bank managements and the police be mounted to confront the crime of targeting ATMs. Regretfully, an effort to collate feedback is yet to be initiated in the right earnest.

Hopefully, the investigation will not end with the return of the money to the aggrieved depositors. Safeguarding of the ATMs must of necessity be a continual operation… much like banking per se.