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Small French villages hit by cash dispenser thieves and ‘jackpotting’

Thieves can empty ATMs of thousands in cash using an increasingly sophisticated method operated by computer hackers working remotely

A hacker wearing a balaclava using a laptop to steal money from an ATM

The hackers use a drill and a laptop computer connected remotely to steal all the cash from an ATM, with rural villages in France being particularly targeted Pic: PRESSLAB / Shutterstock

Thieves across France are attacking ATMs and managing to steal tens of thousands of cash overnight, using only a drill and a computer, in a crime that has been dubbed “jackpotting”.

Small villages, such as Bort-Les-Orgues in Corrèze, have been among the more vulnerable rural areas to be hit.

CCTV footage shows the thieves piercing the ATM with a drill and taking off part of the façade, to enable them to connect a computer to the machine. 

The computer hacking software, which can be operated remotely by someone who may not even be in the same country, then tells the machine to release all of its cash. The thieves then simply pocket the money. 

The process takes around 30-60 minutes, and has been dubbed “jackpotting”. It is usually done overnight, to enable the thieves to proceed without being disturbed.

The village of Bort-Les-Orgues reported that it has lost €25,000 from its ATM in this way. Its machine is the second in the region to be hit over the past few months.

Across the whole of France, the same method of theft is reported to have affected 34 ATMs, including in the Nord, the Paris region, the Bordeaux region, and in the Alps.

Rural ATMs appear to be most at-risk due to their distance from police stations and other surveillance. 

In many communes, there is only one ATM for kilometres around, so a hacker attack can become a major inconvenience.

Late last year, the small village of Simorre (Gers) reported that its one ATM had been left out of action for more than a month after criminals struck in the middle of the night.

The “jackpotting” method, which relies on remote hackers running a sophisticated operation, means that the perpetrators can be almost impossible to trace.

Cécile Augeraud, head of computer crime fighting office l'Office central de lutte contre la criminalité informatique (OCLCTIC), told FranceInfo: “The main operators are Russian-speaking. However, the teams on the ground are many and varied, and may be of several nationalities.”

ATM numbers dropping

It comes after a 2020 Banque de France report found that ATMs are becoming increasingly rare across France, with numbers having dropped 4.1% from 2019 to 2020, for a total of 50,316 nationwide.

It found that the decrease was happening faster in towns of more than 10,000 inhabitants, at 4.8% per year; compared to villages of 1,000-2,000 inhabitants, where the rate is slower (1.3%), and even smaller villages of 500-999 inhabitants (2.7%).

In hamlets of fewer than 500 inhabitants, however, ATM numbers actually increased, from 182 to 187 from 2018 to 2019 – a rise of 2.7%.

The figures showed that nationwide, 18.8% of communes have at least one public ATM, while 25% do not have a general ATM, but have a private bank access point (ATMs only accessible to people who belong to the specific bank).

However, more than half (56.7%) of communes do not have one.

Yet, Banque de France said that national access to cash remains “very good”, with “99% of the population living in a commune that has at least one ATM, or in a commune within less than 15 minutes drive of the nearest access point”.

It said that the drop in ATMs was due to two main reasons: “[the drop] in cash use for transactions, due to the effect of changing methods of purchasing and payment”, and the digitisation of money.

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