Raids on bank machines have increased by more than 142 per cent in the past two years as desperate criminals try to cash in on free money.

An average of more than four machines a week have been targeted across the borough during the current financial year, up until the end of January.

Barclays bank, in Brent Street, Hendon, has been forced to display signs on their external automated teller machines (ATM) after persistent attacks over the past few months.

One A4 note read: “Due to repeated vandalism in this area beyond our control, this machine is currently out of service and awaiting an engineer.”

A spokeswoman for the branch said they had experienced a sharp rise in the number of incidents since December, but assured customers safety systems were in place to stop criminals obtaining customer’s details.

“We can always tell when they have been tampered with because the machines automatically shut down,” she said.

“We are just warning our customers to be vigilant.

“Our customers are not going to lose any money. We don’t need to worry about the business, it is just the inconvienence of every time there it is tampered with we are having to get an engineer to come and repair it.”

There were just 82 cases of cash machines being tampered with reported to police in the financial year 2006-07. The following financial year saw the number almost double to 142 and that figure has again rocketed to 198 incidents up to the end of January.

The dramatic rise has led to hightened police operations across the borough in conjunction with Barnet Council’s CCTV team.

A council spokesman said they had installed more than 100 cameras and plan to install “many more” in the future to held deter and trace criminals.

He added: “Since January 1 CCTV operators working for the council have identified nine offences being committed at cash machines across the borough resulting in ten arrests.”

In the last six months, the partnership has seen a total of 24 people arrested.

Offences often involve organised gangs placing devices onto the machines which allow them to clone the cards of customers, as well as trying to remove large quantities of cash.

DS Andy Goodwin, of Barnet Police, advised bank customers to protect their PIN and look for anything unusual or suspicious about the cash machine.

He added: "Official figures show attacks on cash machines have increased across the country over recent years.

“A number of successful police operations in the borough over the past six months have led to the arrests of a number of offenders who have targeted ATM machines in order to obtain cash/credit cards which have subsequently been used fraudulently.

"Police continue to urge members of the public to be vigilant in their use of ATM machines, and to report any suspicious activity to the police.”