ST. LOUIS – The mastermind behind a string of ATM attacks across the St. Louis region may have ties to gangs in Texas.

Criminals steal a truck, chain up an ATM, then drive off. Banker’s Security Safe and Vault Sales Manager Mark Thatcher Jr. said it’s a process that is well thought out.

“It’s deliberate and targeted to certain ATMs makes and models,” Thatcher said. “It almost always involves a stolen vehicle as well.”

He calls it an organized crime trend that started in Houston, Texas, and people are copying it across St. Louis and other cities.

“They spread pretty quickly from there, hitting our area in Missouri and Kansas,” Thatcher said.

There are now reports of chain attack thefts happening all over the country.

Detectives from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department are investigating at least five attacks on ATMs in the last month.

May 3 | New York Grill | 3765 Gravois: Truck was used to drag ATM from building
May 4 | Soulard Market | 730 Carroll: Two ATMs were damaged, money stolen
May 4 | Lindell Bank | 6900 Clayton: ATM damaged, no cash taken
May 18 | Lindell Bank | 6900 Clayton: ATM damaged, no cash taken
June 5 | Lindell Bank | 3921 Hampton: ATM damaged, money stolen

In the latest ATM theft on Monday, investigators said a black SUV drove up, wrapped a chain around the ATM, and pulled the machine apart.

“The manufacturers of the ATMs that are targeted have developed blocker kits to try and keep some of these hook and chain attacks from occurring,” Thatcher said.

He said these thefts typically happen in less than two minutes.

This is not a new trend. Nearly a year ago, a federal judge sentenced a Houston, Texas, man to prison for his role in a string of ATM break-ins.

Federal authorities said a 20-year-old drove from Texas to Kansas City and the Detroit area to carry out the attacks, which included stealing a truck, chaining up an ATM, and pulling apart the ATM. The Federal Bureau of Investigations said more than $230,000 was stolen.

St. Louis County police said it’s tracking a slight uptick, but they’re sporadic.

“The crimes are typically committed with a pickup truck of some sort where the target is a stand-alone ATM,” said Adrian Washington, St. Louis County police officer. “We are working collaboratively with other municipalities in investigating and sharing information related to these crimes.”

There’s another trend that law enforcement is closely monitoring Bank Jugging. It’s a crime where predators watch a bank customer, follow them home or to their next destination, then rob them, sometimes in a violent takedown.

It’s the latest trend happening in the Houston area and something law enforcement officials said is likely to spread, like ATM-style thefts.

Thatcher said it’s all about watching your surroundings.

“Situational awareness always. If there’s bushes around ATM, or trees, or anything like that I always say that to my family,” he said. “If a light is burnt out, don’t use it.”

Houston police have told citizens if they’re using an ATM, put their cell phones away and have their keys out and ready so they can unlock their doors quickly.

Authorities have also been warning customers to watch if anyone is following them after leaving the bank. If they notice someone following, immediately call 911 and drive to the closest police station.