MT. RAINIER, Md. -- Thieves pulled into a BP gas station on Eastern Avenue in Mount Rainier and drove off with an ATM after assaulting the clerk early Monday.
Police say they received a report of someone acting hysterically at the gas station. When they arrived, they found the clerk outside the store.
The clerk told police four men pulled up to the store in a white Ford pickup truck. They pried the door open and assaulted him.
They then stole the ATM, an unknown amount of cash from the register and cigarettes. The clerk suffered a minor head injury.
This incident was the latest in in a long line of ATM thefts and robberies in Prince George's County in the last few months. Last week, someone drove a pickup truck into a CVS store in Forestville, attempting what is known as a "smash and grab" ATM theft. Last fall, several such incidents happened in August and September.
So is this a trend?
"In all of 2013, we think we had somewhere around 15, plus or minus one or two, actual ATMs stolen," Lt. William Alexander of the Prince George's County Police told WTOP Monday. "In 2014, we've actually had only one ATM successfully stolen."
That doesn't include the Mt. Rainier incident, which Alexander said was being handled by the Mt. Rainier Police Department. Requests for comment from the Mt. Rainier police went unanswered.
But while incidents are down, Prince George's County police have not made any arrests for the incidents last fall, and are not ruling out the possibility that all of these thefts could be connected.
"[Investigators] do think that some of the overall ATM thefts have been committed by the same suspect or group of suspects," Alexander said. "But there's nothing definitive at this point that links one singular group or singular suspect to all of the overall ATM-related incidents."
Alexander stressed that investigators are working hard to solve the case, and are collaborating with other jurisdictions.
ATM theft isn't just a problem in Prince George's County. Mark Smith of Kahuna ATM Solutions told WTOP that it's a nationwide problem -- one caused primarily by a misconception about how much money free-standing store ATMs actually carry.
"The irony of it is that rarely do those ATMs have very much money in them," Smith said. "They're low capacity ATMS, they're not banking ATMs."
Smith said that bank ATMs often have as much as $80,000 in them…but free-standing store ATMs rarely contain more that $2,000. But most thieves do not realize this.
Smith says store owners rarely invest in the same level of security equipment as banks because it's cost prohibitive.
"Adding $1,000 to a $2,000-valued ATM is outside of the retailer's mindset," he said. The clerk suffered a minor head injury.
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