Symposium sheds light on bank security issues

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.

Still, some bank security directors noted that it's sometimes challenging to make bank management pay attention. One security director noted that the bank manager said he was making so much money from a particular ATM that he could afford the loss of it on occasion. That security director said he was trying to convince his bank managers that their profits from the ATMs would be even higher if they would outlay some spending to protect the units, thereby preventing crimes and removing the almost expected cost of replacing the ATM.

Of course, ATMs weren't the only concern for those in attendance. A session addressed the issue of crime reduction. In today's banking environment, the bank security directors have been able to deploy quality video surveillance systems, making the fuzzy black-and-white image of a robber almost history. They've organized in regional groups like ChicagoFIRST ( and FloridaFIRST ( designed to share information that can help prevent crimes and identify common tactics. Such tactics do help. Paul Evans, a retired Boston Police Commissioner who worked on the London surveillance system and spoke at the symposium, was one of the advocates for cameras. He said that adding cameras can reduce crime by 3 or 4 percent. "Better lighting," added Evans, "reduces crime by up 20 percent."

But even with cameras and regional bank security think-tanks and discussion boards, security directors are sometimes having trouble getting cases focused on by prosecutors. While bank robberies are federal-level crimes which break the Federal Bank Robbery and Incidental Crimes Statute, getting federal level prosecution is sometimes difficult.

"At [the U.S. Secret Service] headquarters, we are dedicating more effort to prosecuting identity theft," said Jeff Rinehart, a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service speaking at the ADT Banking Security Symposium.

Brad Bryant, the FBI Chief of the Violent Crimes Major Offender Unit, noted that the FBI is ramping up mortgage fraud enforcement, and is adding 200 agents in the field to deal with that area of financial crime. "But, said Bryant, "that [focus on mortgage fraud] shouldn't impact our ability to address core issues like bank robberies."

Nonetheless, Johnny Niedzwiedzki, a U.S. Postal Inspection Service inspector on hand with Bryant and Rinehart for the "Ask the Agent town hall panel", was honest and candid when he told attendees that "federal prosecutors want the good cases."

Rinehart, Bryant and Niedzwiedzki all encouraged bank security directors to align closely with local law enforcement to develop prosecutable cases, and the general conclusion was that it simply isn't practical to get all bank crimes cases prosecuted at a federal level.

Finally, while much of the symposium was focused on issues like major financial crimes -- from robberies to insider money laundering and even skimming -- the symposium recognized that banks are filled with employees and that creates its own problems.

Dr. Steven Albrecht, PHR, CPP, presented a workshop along with ADT's Pat Fiel, to discuss employee violence as part of the program. Albrecht's major point to bank security directors when dealing with issues of workplace violence was, "We can't predict violence, but we can assess dangerousness."

Albrecht told attendees that they have to remember that domestic violence can be a common part of any work environment.

"Often, the first time human resources and the security department hears about a restraining order is when the old boyfriend is in the bank lobby," said Albrecht. "Organizations need to consider the risk of domestic violence," said Albrecht. "If you have a large number of females in your workforce, you are at risk [for domestic violence]."

Outside of domestic violence, Albrecht pointed at issues of general violence. He reminded attendees that there are three factors which are commonly the source of such violence. The first, he said, is economic stress, such as the inability to pay the bills and put food on the table. The massive layoffs affecting the banking industry in the fall of 2008 should be considered a warning sign of potential violence, he noted. The second factor is mental illness and depression, and Albrecht noted that depression and mental anguish often follow after economic stresses. The third factor is revenge on individuals or a company. Unfortunately, he said that also can be linked to firings and layoffs. If there's any take-away from education on workplace violence, it was that we exist as an event-driven society.

"We didn't give a damn about airline security until after 9/11," said Albrecht.

And with any luck, thanks to the insight and focus paid to bank security at the ADT symposium, it won't take a catastrophic event in the banking world before anyone pays attention.