Thieves Use Drone to Steal Almost $150,000 from ATM

BY Zacc Dukowitz
12 October 2022

Thieves recently used a DJI Mini to steal 150,000 Euros (about $147,000) from an ATM in the city of Reims, France.


To pull the theft off, they forced open a covering on a ventilation shaft, then flew the drone through it and into a technical room that controlled the ATM.

Before flying into the technical room, they stuck a telescopic stick outfitted with a mirror into the room in order to visualize the location of the button that needed to be pressed to open the ATM.

After locating the button, they flew the drone inside and pressed it, opening the ATM from the inside. Once the ATM was open the thieves removed all of the cash from the safe, then closed it back up.

The entire plan took less than 10 minutes to execute. According to police, this was the first time a drone had been used for a bank heist.

This well-planned operation left little clues for bank employees, who arrived to find that all the money in the ATM’s safe was gone but the ATM had no signs of damage. The mystery was quickly solved by playing back the security footage, in which the DJI Mini can clearly be seen flying up the ventilation duct.

The robbery took place at the start of this year. Since then, the police have arrested a group of four suspects.

Will We See a Rash of ATM Thefts by Drone?

Probably not. According to the police, this was a very unique situation.

For starters, one of the thieves arrested was a former ATM mechanic, who worked repairing and maintaining ATMs. This experience was clearly crucial to the operation, since the mechanic knew how ATMs worked and how to open them up.

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But an even more important piece of information the mechanic had was the code to the safe.

The safe was a relay safe where money was held before being deposited onto conveyors, which would then take it to the distributor (i.e., the ATM).

The reason the mechanic had the safe code was simple human error: the code was the same as it had been when he’d previously worked on that particular ATM because, well, no one had changed it since.

Without that code, the drone could have helped the thieves open the ATM but they still would have been faced with a locked safe.

So while a drone might be able to help you get access to an ATMs safe, to actually extract the cash you’d still need to have either the code or an Ocean’s 11 level of safe cracking skills.

Other Crimes Committed with Drones

One of the most common crimes committed with a drone is smuggling contraband into prisons.

Drones are being used to carry items like tobacco, illicit drugs, cell phones, and even ammunition over prison walls, where they can drop them to the ground for prisoners awaiting the delivery.

Even though it’s common knowledge that drones are being used this way both in the U.S. and throughout the world, it’s hard to stop it from happening.

One reason it’s hard to stop is because drones are so small and nimble, and a quick delivery flight can take place in just a matter of minutes.

Another reason is because there don’t seem to be any specific laws against this kind of operation.

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According to reporting from Wired, a recent case brought against two men who conspired to make a contraband drone delivery at a prison in Georgia rests on the fact that the men didn’t have a Part 107 certificate.

The two men were charged with operating an unmanned aircraft “for compensation or hire” without the appropriate certificate—i.e., without a Part 107 certificate.

The owner of the drone they planned to use, who was in jail and had paid them to make the delivery, was similarly charged with “owning an unregistered drone that was operated, attempted to be operated, or allowed to be operated by another person.”

These charges seem pretty light compared to the crimes, and highlight a legislative gap at the federal level when it comes to stopping illegal activities with drones. After all, shouldn’t the act of delivering contraband into a prison itself be illegal?

The good news is that congress and the president are aware of this gap in the law.

President Biden has put forth a detailed plan to combat rogue drones (i.e., drones used for illegal activities), which includes empowering local authorities to use anti-drone technology as well as creating legislation to deter people from using drones to deliver contraband to prisons.

The plan has eight recommendations, the seventh of which explicitly addresses the need for these types of laws:

Work with Congress to enact a comprehensive criminal statute that sets clear standards for legal and illegal uses, closes loopholes in existing Federal law, and establishes adequate penalties to deter the most serious UAS-related crimes.

Learn more about President Biden’s Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan.

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