Why the Reduction in Bank Robberies is a Cause for Concern

Kidnapping Awareness and Prevention: Why Less Bank Robberies is Dangerous

Crime doesn’t pay. Not like it used to at least. In the last 25 years, bank robberies have fallen over sixty percent. Hollywood renditions like the move “Heat” have cemented the image of organized criminals planning multi-million dollar heists, but today, more than ever, nothing could be further from the truth. Bank robberies are crimes committed by the desperate, looking to score, on average, just $6,500. At SMI, we offer kidnapping prevention training courses for business travelers and professionalskidnapping prevention training courses for business travelers and professionals. Read more about what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Kidnapping Awareness

Barely above minimum wage: that’s what a robber’s salary typically amounts to, experts say. So how could it be worth it? The calculation gets even worse once the robber considers just how much harder it has become to rob banks. Until fairly recently, banks simply accepted the loss of money from a heist as a calculable loss – it is after all, just a few thousand dollars – these same banks have also realized the importance of a reputation of safety. Small change or not, no bank wants robberies on their record, and as a result, in the last 20 years, banks have made a commitment to spending millions of dollars securing all of their branches, no matter how obscure. In an age where billions of dollars are being stolen off of multinational corporations from the comfort of a computer chair, savvy criminals have decided to look for their free lunches elsewhere.

The FBI reports, nearly 60% of bank robbers are caught. The chart below depicts a 46% decrease in overall bank robberies but only a 13% change in the average dollar amount stolen per robbery.

Year Total Robberies Average Dollar Loss Per Robbery

2000 7127 $4,437

2015 4091 $3,884

*Many financial institutions do not disclose the total loss per theft.

Less Bank Robberies and More Kidnappings

Unfortunately, criminals using the kidnapping and extortion method, plan thoroughly and need not worry about the latest security features within the bank. The statistics above demonstrate criminals have changed their tactics become more efficient and are choosing their targets wisely.

New Kidnapping and Extortion Tactics

Part of the romanticized image of the heist is the notion that they’re crimes against institutions instead of people. Hence, kidnapping and extortion, the less risky and modern methods of “robbing a bank,” take on a sinister edge: they target the people who make up the institution. Instead of walking up to the front door and waving a gun, some bank robbers have progressed to keen target selection and surveillance. Criminals select a ‘soft target’ and conduct surveillance for days, or even weeks.

Kidnapping Starts with a Home Invasion

Employees or executives with access to the vault or drawers find out a family member has been kidnapped. They’re told their family member is in an undisclosed location, their safety contingent on the bank employee entering the bank, retrieving a pre-determined amount of money and dropping it off at a specified location. Meanwhile, the criminal circumvents much of the costly security located within the building itself.

Given all of this, what can we learn to better protect ourselves and our families from this new modus operandi?

Protecting Yourself and Your Family

Similar to predators in the wild, assailants are looking for easy prey. With the risks involved in conducting a successful kidnapping and bank robbery, criminals will select a bank executive or employee based on the ease of predictability and control. Accordingly, there are several subtle and nonverbal cues bank employees, and family members must acquire to make themselves less appealing to criminals. Learning and understanding how criminals choose bank employees and conduct surveillance will assist in ensuring your safety.

Kidnapping Target Selection

The preferred victim of a kidnapper is someone who doesn’t watch their surroundings. The indicators of a preferred victim call to mind the archetype of an absent minded professor: abnormal walking stride (dragging feet), slow walking rate, awkwardness of body movements, posture, and even gaze.

The next trait a criminal looks for is predictability. Predictability in routine is a huge plus for these criminals looking to pull off a still risky crime. Especially if the criminal can rely on the person in question to perform minimal security checks. One simple way to dissuade being chosen from the very start is simply looking the part: walk confidently, and at least look like you’re aware of where you’re going.

Los Angeles, California September 2012: As a result of limited home security, a Bank of America Manager was abducted from her home, strapped with explosives and ordered to remove cash from the vault. The family members were held hostage.

Surveillance and Detection

But what if you’re chosen and a target and the criminal starts surveilling you? The surveillance could last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, ending when the criminal knows the following information: basic patterns in the bankers’ routine, the bankers’ home, the bankers’ family members, and a viable location for the abduction. This gives any reasonably trained and observant person to detect the surveillance and stop the crime before it starts.

Remember this acronym: TEDD. Time, Environment, Distance and Demeanor . The first three – time, environment and distance – go together. If you see the same person at different times, in different areas over distances, there’s a good chance you’re under surveillance. In laymen's terms: if you see the same person in the morning leaving your home, during lunch at a café and again at a stoplight on your way home, then there’s good reason to keep your eyes peeled.

There may be other telltale signs in the criminals’ demeanor. With no training and little experience, most criminals revert to what they have seen in movies and are unaware of small indicators that will identify them. Below are a few things to look for if you suspect you’re under surveillance:

  • Wearing inappropriate clothing in regards to the weather or environment. For instance, someone wearing a sweater or hat during warm weather or sunglasses during a cloudy day. Criminals assume the color black will help them blend in with all environments; to the contrary, this makes them stand out.
  • Repeated movements or malingering. Someone will repeatedly tie their shoe waiting for you to finish your coffee or check their watch to track the time you’ve arrived and departed.
  • Other obvious cues are the use of binoculars, cameras, taking notes, making a phone call and making repeated eye contact or blatantly avoiding eye contact.

This list can go on and on, but the best advice is to trust your natural instincts. If it looks wrong or out of place, chances are it’s not a coincidence. Call the local police and have them confront the suspected surveillance team. Another important element to remember, surveillance is usually conducted as a team. The use of women, pets, and even children have been used to blend in and avoid detection. Lastly, don't ignore things you might see every day. The elderly, taxi drivers, homeless and delivery personnel: all these guises operate in most peoples’ psychological blind spots. Knoxville, Tennessee April 2015: Two armed men dressed in dark clothing surveilled the home of Mark Ziegler, a bank executive at Y-12 Federal Credit Union. The assailants placed GoPro cameras on trees and shrubs surrounding Ziegler’s home.

Basic Safety and Kidnapping Awareness

Basic training in detecting surveillance should be part of any self-protection arsenal, but simple prudence goes a long way. Not every criminal is going to make the same mistakes based on a movie they watched, but there are several things you, your employees and your family members can do daily to protect yourself:

  • When entering a location, look around - observe your surroundings. Most people do not look at what is happening inside a store, restaurant, car garage, apartment building or lobby before making an entrance. Noticing something out of place will ensure you avoid entering and possibly save your life.
  • Stop looking at the ground! When you’re at your most vulnerable (on the phone, driving or jogging, usually) make a mental note to be especially observant.
  • Don’t offer rides to strangers and think twice before you offer to help people. Unfortunately, we live in a dangerous world, and good Samaritans are criminals’ easiest targets.
  • No matter your location (bar, coffee shop or restaurant) watch your drink.
  • Flat tire? Drive to a safe place. New wheels are a small price to pay.
  • Avoid patterns. If possible, vary your routes to and from work as much as possible including the time you depart and arrive daily.

Fort Wayne, Indiana December 2015: An employee of 1st Source Bank was abducted from his driveway and forced to remove an undisclosed amount of money from the bank. Authorities believe the bank employee was followed home from work.

The Way Forward: Preventing Extortion and Kidnapping

Over the centuries, bank robberies have evolved from horseback riding cowboys and Depression-era outlaws to kidnapping and extortion-style robberies. New security advances and technology integration has forced criminals to adapt and innovate. Unfortunately, criminals have developed a new method to rob a financial institution without setting foot inside. This kidnapping and extortion-style method entirely bypass the sophisticated security systems and increases the dangers of bank executives, employees, and family members. Understanding the victim selection process, the conduct of surveillance and surveillance detection techniques you can avoid becoming a target and prevent becoming a victim. Financial institutions must take their executive and employee training a step further to include family members to avoid the new bank robbery methods. Contact us today to help you plan for your business and family.Contact us today to help you plan for your business and family.

About the Authors

Jason Polanco is a consultant to Security Management International, LLC. Jeremiah Fernandez is a Junior Associate at Security Management International, LLC.

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