Cops Catch ATM Napkin Scammer

San Francisco PD have caught a crook using an ingeniously low-fi method to rip people off ATMs: napkins.

A merchant on Divisadero Street tipped the cops off after he spied the crook stuffing napkins up into ATM cash dispenser slots. When people tried to take cash out, it would get stuck up behind the napkins. After they walked away frustrated, the guy just strolled over, reached up into the slot, and dislodged the napkins, and walked away with their cash.

According to the police, the man who lived in the Tenderloin district of San Fran, is a serial napkin stuffer. He was charged with burglary. After they arrested him, cops found another ATM stuffed with napkins close by.

So if you go to withdraw money from an ATM and it doesn’t come out, don’t just finger around in the tray, also reach up into the slot and see if there’s anything stuck there. After that, try to take a cellphone picture of the ATM screen for evidence and then call the number on the ATM for service. (If the ATM is in a bank, you of course should just go inside and ask for help.)

Cops catch crook in ATM scam [Law & Disorder] (Thanks to Rachel!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. obits3 says:

    While this is wrong, I have to say that is pretty ingenious.

    • TheFinalBoomer says:

      Was thinking the same thing.

    • nallanos says:

      it seems soo easy right? and if he could remove those napkins, i sure as shit could remove them too (especially if it’s my money).

      • ophmarketing says:

        The concept behind this, though, is that he KNOWS there are napkins shoved up there. You don’t. You just assume the machine didn’t dispense, go home and call your bank, and hope it didn’t debit your account. Meanwhile, Scammy McScammerson saunters over, pulls the (unseen) napkins out, and with it, lots o’ cash.

    • areaman says:

      Which his more ingenious, napkin guy or the guy who “opened his own bar”? Discuss.

      • Cantras says:

        I think the guy who opened his own bar is more… “inspiring”? this is pretty tricky. I mean I’m like, wow, I wouldn’t have thought of that, that’s sneaky. And bastardy, but I’m more in awe of sneaky.
        The bar guy, i feel was not being sneaky any more than he “had to,” and was being wholly honest otherwise, yes? and creative. and ballsy.

  2. invisibelle says:

    Heh, my brother lives there, it was probably him. *opens up article*

  3. milkcake says:

    People used to do with pay-phones back in the old days. They would bend the return slot metal so that quarters wouldn’t come out. I saw this hobo guy carrying a wire thing to get quarters out of it. Of course, since we got cellphones now, nobody does this scam.

    • shepd says:

      Well, that helps explain the need for fortress phones.

    • Southern says:

      Good luck finding an actual payphone anyway.. I haven’t seen any in forever.. Not even at gas stations.

      • milkcake says:

        Well, like i said, back in the old days. Not anymore. Just saying, it’s not all that creative as many people think.

      • Pax says:

        There’s one right across the street from me. :)

        It’s right about where the hookers and drug dealers hang out on weekend nights. :(

        • NeverLetMeDown says:

          Dealers are using payphones? Haven’t they seen The Wire, season 1?

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          It’s the same way where I live. I think the only people who use pay phones nowadays are drug dealers and buyers.

      • joako says:

        I used on in Schiphol airport a few years ago. The phone said the rate was somewhere around 20 eurocent/minute. For a

    • stormbird says:

      My grandfather used to do that as a kid. Back then, there wasn’t that anti-thieving slot cover thing and he’d shove a paper napkin up it. This was seventy-five years ago, so I think the statute of limitations has run out.

    • aja175 says:

      The good old days of cutting the black and yellow wire, waiting a week, go back and reconnecting the wires are long gone…
      Not that I’d know anything about that of course.

    • quail says:

      The only place I see pay phones anymore is the airport, and even those are finally diminishing in number. Well, actually it’s been a 2 years since I’ve flown so that might not be true anymore.

      • TheWillow says:

        they’re still all over nyc. Usually when I see someone using one they’re yelling at someone on the other end.

    • whosyer12 says:

      The best scam was breaking an egg into the coin return slot—for most people it just wasn’t worth 10 cents to fish around in what felt like snot (or worse) for their dime.

      • David in Brasil says:

        Nope – the best scam was when I was a kid, we used to unplug Coke machines, stand back and wait….

        • Azzizzi says:

          I had a friend in high-school who would steal the whole pay phone, then smash it open with a sledge hammer.

  4. sirwired says:

    That’s pretty slick! And the bank is never going to believe you when you claim you didn’t get the money, as the usual procedure is to audit the machine and make sure it has the number of bills in it that it is supposed to.

  5. SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

    instead of the complicated atm skimmer approach he took the uncomplicated napkin jamming approach, kudos for thinking outside the box I guess, but srsly I’m now checking the $ slot of every atm I use from now on

  6. ellmar says:

    what does “finger around in the try” mean?

  7. Larraque eats babies says:

    Man. This guy is pretty stupid. Don’t ATMs have a camera built in, and usually cameras outside focused on the …. wait. There’s a “Tenderloin district” in San Francisco?

    • theblackdog says:

      I read that the built in cameras only work at the time you’re completing the transaction, they’re not on all the time. It’s like a glorified still camera.

      • Southern says:

        Plus they only take a photo/video of the person using the ATM, they don’t take images of the PIN pad, the cash tray, or anything else.. So even reviewing the video there’s really no way to “prove” that someone didn’t pull the cash out of the dispenser and put it straight into their pocket.

        • hotcocoa says:

          There are always other video cameras in the lobby/ATM area that capture everything. Nobody is sitting there watching them, but there would be footage that could be reviewed and used to verify you didn’t take you $$$ and lie about this happening at a later time.

    • prismatist says:

      Yeah, the Tenderloin district. It’s the one part of San Fran with no stinkin’ vegetarians.

      • mythago says:

        Dude, do you really live here? Plenty of vegetarians in the Tenderloin (check out the restaurant menus at those hole-in-the-wall sandwich shops) and plenty of non-tree-huggery neighborhoods other than the ‘loin.

      • jenjenjen says:

        I like how they’re trying to rebrand it as “The Ten.”

    • crtjer says:

      Tenderloin is a term that was meant as a high crime area. I learned this from an episode of Good Eats about Tenderloins. Its either in Tender is the Loin part 1 or 2.

  8. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    I love that San Francisco has a “Tenderloin” district.

    (Insert twink joke here)

  9. MutantMonkey says:

    Consumerist, do you really think it is a wise idea to suggest, even in jest, that people probe machinery with their fingers to retrieve money?

    • Coles_Law says:

      Fingering machinery for money. Mechanical prostitution?

    • The cake is a lie! says:

      It isn’t like the money is stuck behind a series of razor blades and fans. If the scammer can stuff a napkin up there, then you can check to see if there is some sort of similar blockage when your money doesn’t come out. I don’t think the count of ATM injuries is very high in the world.

  10. Paladin_11 says:

    This is why my credit union’s ATM has a rotating door that blocks the cash slot until it actually dispenses money. No stuffing possible.

    • Rena says:

      Even if you jammed it open after making a withdrawl? Of course that’d leave a pretty obvious pattern; they stop working every time you use it, and then start working again when you use it the next day…

  11. fr34k says:

    my bank has a slot that spits the money out at you pinched between two rollers, after you take the money the slot locks back up I cant see anyway a napkin could be used to prevent money from comming out, I just see a messy paper jam

  12. crashman2600 says:

    I don’t think I would walk away so easily. I would tend to try a little harder if my money didn’t come out.

    • Burzmali says:

      This. Also, unless I was in some crazy hurry, I’d stand at the ATM and call customer service rather than just walking away.

  13. dantsea says:

    As many local Bay Area residents well know, the first seven words of this post are its most shocking part.

  14. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    With all the cockroaches out there skimming and/or jamming ATMs, I’m glad I almost never use them. Cash back at a POS location seems a lot safer to me.

    • Downfall says:

      I’ve been using ATM cards for years with no problem, except once when an ATM failed to dispense cash (Chase later admitted the problem was on their end and credited my account). Any hard numbers on just how prevalent this sort of thing is? I would guess that it’s relatively safe, particularly if you stick with ATM’s in stores and banks.

  15. RogalDorn says:

    I never use ATMs. I hate the idea of taking someones job and, I don’t trust robots with my money.

    • evnmorlo says:

      We’ve replaced you RogalDorn’s teller with an android. Let’s see if he notices!

    • Cicadymn says:

      Dan Halen: I think what most impresses me, Earlie, is the effort and detail which you’ve clearly shown in urinating on my laptop.

      Earlie Cuyler: I don’t care to consort with those of the robot race.

      Dan Halen: …and why would you? I think that about covers it. Earlie, welcome to Dan Halen Sheetrock, International.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      Me either; I hate being limited to 48 byte payloads.

    • MrBeetle says:

      If only banks were open longer than 10-3pm weekdays, and 10-12 on saturdays…

      But they aren’t, so I often have to use an ATM to do everything.

  16. el-brazo-onofre says:

    The BBC show ‘Hustle’ showed a similar trick with gum. Season 1 or 2.

  17. Quatre707 says:

    I would call my bank immediately if an ATM didn’t dispense my cash. There are 24/7 numbers for such things as this, just likes stolen cards and several other 24/7 support services.

  18. djanes1 says:

    If this heroin addict actually applied himself/herself in life, think what they could have accomplished…

  19. SimplyStating says:

    Brings new meaning to sticking it to someone..

  20. Press1forDialTone says:

    Any bank that would use ATMs in their network that have this kind of design
    deserve to get completely ripped off, not to mention the folks who would use
    such a stupid and insecure design. Use your heads people :-) It’s -your- money
    for goodness sake.

    The “guillotine” type is best in my view which is a thick metal door that first opens
    rapidly, the money is dispensed >half-way
    “slices” the money in half until you pull it out.

  21. Vandil says:

    File a Reg E claim and move on with life.

  22. RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

    I work with ATMs for a living. Please don’t “finger around” the withdrawal slot. If you notice, when you’re not getting cash in a lot of ATMs, that’s closed over. There’s a door that rolls down over it once the cash is taken, and with quite a bit of force, sort of like a blunt guillotine. You could seriously hurt your fingers if and when that withdrawal door chomps down.

  23. cjnewbs says:

    Fantastic advice consumerist! Unless you are as stupid as the criminal don’t go poing around inside an ATM for your cash See:

  24. smirkette says:

    I wish they’d ID’d the merchant–I would love to give him/her my business! I understand why they didn’t, but observant, responsible people don’t get enough credit these days for doing the right thing.

  25. jerrycomo says:

    They should cut his hands. See if he can scam more people without them.