The Reverse PIN Hoax - Urban Legends

An Emergency Notification System for the Future

An online rumor started in October 2006 claims ATM users can quickly contact police in the event of an attempted robbery by entering their PIN in reverse. This claim is false.

Reverse PIN and Technology

False, for now, that is. Technology exists which would allow ATM users to contact police in an emergency by punching in their PIN (personal identification number) in reverse, but as of this publication it has not yet been implemented anywhere in the United States.

Lawmakers in the states of Kansas and Illinois introduced legislation calling for the institution of reverse-PIN emergency notification systems (also known under the brand name SafetyPIN) in 2004, but the Kansas bill stalled in committee and the Illinois bill was watered down at the behest of the banking industry, making the adoption of the technology purely voluntary — which it already was.

According to a story published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, bankers are opposed to the reverse-PIN system because of safety concerns. They fear that ATM users might hesitate or fumble under duress while trying to enter their PINs backwards, possibly increasing the chances of violence. The banking industry is in favor of finding a means to protect ATM customers, a member of the American Bankers Association said, but question whether the reverse-PIN solution is the right one.

Inventor of PIN Number Reversal Says Banks "in Denial"

The inventor of SafetyPIN, Joseph Zingher, claims the banking industry is afraid to admit the growing extent of ATM robbery. Exact figures are hard to come by because ATM holdups are lumped in with other types of bank robbery in the FBI's annual crime statistics. Of the 8,000 to 12,000 bank robberies per year counted by the FBI over the past 15 years, 3,000 to 4,000 were ATM robberies, according to the banking industry. Some crime experts suspect the figure is actually higher.

Bankers, for their part, insist they do acknowledge the problem of ATM crime and recommend that customers exercise due caution and be aware of their surroundings when using automated teller machines.

Here's a sample email about the false claim of a reverse pin number contributed by J. Brouse on Dec. 6, 2006.

If you should ever be forced by a robber to withdraw money from an ATM machine, you can notify the police by entering your Pin # in reverse.
For example if your pin number is 1234 then you would put in 4321. The ATM recognizes that your pin number is backwards from the ATM card you placed in the machine. The machine will still give you the money you requested, but unknown to the robber, the police will be immediately dispatched to help you.
This information was recently broadcast on TV stating that it is seldom used because people don't know it exists.

Sources and further reading:

Why Reverse PIN Is Not in Use U.S. Government, May 16, 2014

Technology to Keep You Safe at ATM Machines
WOAI-TV News, September 22, 2006

Why Great Ideas Get Shot Down
Fortune Small Business,  February 1, 2006

Inventor, Kansas Senator Back Idea to Thwart ATM Holdups
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 2005

Banking on ATM Safety
Forbes, January 28, 2004