Symposium sheds light on bank security issues

Conference from ADT looks at robberies, skimming, ATM attacks and other bank crimes

In late November, the FBI released bank crime numbers for the second quarter of 2008. In that time period, banks faced more than 1,400 robberies. The numbers were down, according to FBI Criminal Investigative Division Assistant Director Kenneth W. Kaiser, but he said "the propensity for violence during bank crimes remains a concern."

In 58 of those incidents (from a total of 1,443 incidents tracked by the FBI during that quarter), violence was involved. That included assaults, hostage situations and even deaths, noted Kaiser.

It was exactly that kind of criminal problem that brought members of many U.S. banks together for the 2008 ADT Financial Security Symposium in West Palm Beach, Fla., from Nov. 18-20. Representatives from both enormous banks (Bank of America, for instance) and regional banks (Bank of Tampa, for example0 met in the same room, hashed out common problems and tried to anticipate their future challenges. They sat in on lectures, networked over coffees, and even formed table-size workgroups to speculate on how to deal with select incidents. They talked budgets and buy-outs which precipitated from the economic recession and murmured between themselves about how that would affect security spending.

Speakers included representatives of the FBI, Postal Service, ADT technology whizzes, a workplace violence consultant, public safety specialists and others. Around the room and available for browsing during breaks were some of the emerging technologies for preventing criminal incidents. On table-tops, attendees could inspect top-notch video surveillance systems, sophisticated access control programs and even systems that would block credit card and ATM card skimming. ("Skimming" is the process of getting a card-holder to present their card and sometimes PIN to a fraudulent card reader which captures the card and access PIN information.)

In regards to the FBI statistics, these security leaders were here because financial crimes are a big problem. Just in that second quarter of 2008, robberies meant the loss of approximately $12.5 million according to the FBI's numbers. In the same quarter, monies recovered from bank robberies totaled only $1.7 million.

One of the common problems security directors said they were facing were instances of ATM thefts. Often situated outside the bank in the drive-up lanes, or even positioned as standalone units along city streets, the ATM has become America's banking stations -- with many banks accepting deposits, counting money, dispensing cash and providing balance information at these units. Loaded with money, the ATMs have become a target of opportunity for thieves. While symposium participants noted that they still do face the occasional pickup truck smash-and-grab incident that affects the small standalone units commonly found inside gas station convenience stores, they've been increasingly focused on the larger, full-service units.

Those units, they note, cost more than many nicely equipped sports cars, and are filled with cash stores. Today's thieves, they noted, have been trying to attack those ATMs with heavy-duty equipment. Some bank security directors noted they'd seen the use of over-sized forklifts and full-size front-end loaders to attempt to pry the devices off their curbs-edge locations. The typical M.O., said the experts, is that such a piece of equipment breaks the ATM from its concrete footing so that it can be loaded into a getaway truck. To counter this, some facilities are designed to prevent frontal attacks on the ATMs. Others have considered a hinged, "flip-back" design that nullifies the ramming power of the heavy duty equipment. Even other companies have undertaken efforts to build massive steel cages around the ATMs to prevent them from being lifted out of their location.

What's clear in the world of ATM security, however, is that such devices are common targets, and the loss of such an ATM is incredibly expensive to the bank -- both in lost time of service, lost cash from within the unit, and the lost cost of replacing this high-end piece of electronic machinery.

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