Forget the Tommy Gun
Back in the early 1930s, of course, folks like John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly, Fred Barker and Albert Bates roamed the nation, shooting up towns and robbing banks. One Kelly gang robbed the Bank of Willmar in Minnesota of an estimated $70,000 – a lot of dollars in 1930. Today’s bank robbers, at least the ones that walk in the front door with a note or gun, haul in a couple hundred on average. It’s a tough business: just last month, a Santa Barbara, Calif., bank robber had his loot blow up in his pants thanks to a dye pack before being arrested minutes after the bungled holdup.
A combination of still and video cameras, security officers on site and emerging technology such as global positioning system or GPS tags in “robber-ready” money has helped capture more than one bank robber. The fact that robbing a bank is a federal crime doesn’t hurt.
Others, however, who walk into a bank or financial institution, do cause real and growing harm. Whether it’s the bank president or a teller, a foreign businessman or a software programmer, these folks are increasingly stealing millions while, often, avoiding prison or even fines.
Of course, there are strong arms at ATMs. And there is the occasional incident in which a tech-savvy gang rigs a legit ATM to capture bankcard info and PIN numbers as they empty out victims’ accounts. In truth, there’s greater concern over the maintenance of the ATMs and the audit trail as the machines are monitored and filled.
Then there’s Orazio Lembo. In late May, it was reported in the media that such financial bigwigs as Bank of America and Wachovia Corp. sold account information on their customers to Lembo, who was posing as an officer of a collection agency. It turns out that seven bank employees with access to sensitive databases were arrested along with Lembo in New Jersey.
Such crimes would make Dillinger envious.
Banks and financial institutions also are targets of money launderers. There are many two-bit players. There are some high rankers – Riggs Bank, now a part of PNC, fell to a felony charge last January that involved alleged money laundering and Augusto Pinochet, Chili’s former dictator.
Law enforcement executives also are concerned about potential terrorist links to banks. Thanks to the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act, federal regulators can fine banks for not filing what’s called suspicious activity reports or SARs. Some fines for non-compliance on SARs have been in the multi-millions of dollars.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, in addition to state and federal bank regulators, now looks up to find potential criminals. While mailroom clerks might be stealing pencils and Whiteout, Martha is lying about illegal insider trading activity. While Jane Teller might be pocketing a few dollars out of her drawer, President Joe Bank is stealing millions.
“Deep Throat” has it half right. “Follow the money,” he advised. When in comes to bank and financial security, it is better advice to “follow the big money.”