Fake Night Deposit Box Found at Arkansas Bank

SEARCY, Ark. (AP) -- Searcy police confiscated an elaborate but phony night deposit box at a local bank, and investigators say the people behind the scam may be the same suspects who placed similar boxes in cities in other states, including Oklahoma.

The difference this time was that police got to the box before the thieves could recover it. No arrests have been made but police say the culprits left behind their fingerprints.

Since July, bank customers have been stolen from by thieves who placed fake boxes in Fort Smith and Eureka Springs. Police said similar scams have popped up in three other states, too.

The scam is timed so that restaurants and other businesses making cash deposits leave the money in the fake night deposit boxes. Until Searcy police grabbed the box, police were left with only security videotapes of the suspects installing the boxes and then taking them away.

Searcy police were called Monday by a customer who sensed the box was not authentic. The woman, who works at a fast-food restaurant, noticed the structure that contained the box wasn't attached to the bank wall.

Searcy police Lt. Detective Bobby O'Brian said what appeared to be the bank's night deposit box was positioned directly over the top of the real box.

Bank surveillance tapes showed a man setting up the box at 9:30 p.m.; police were called shortly after 11 p.m.

``We believe the perpetrators probably set up the fake box and then watched it to see when someone made a deposit,'' O'Brian said. ``They probably would have grabbed the money and ran. In our case they probably fled as soon as the police came and left their device behind.''

The fake box had a wood frame and box, and was covered in stucco. It was painted to match the building, and featured a metal slot for money with a sign that read ``DEPOSITS.'' Inside was a small metal basket for collecting money.

``They took some time to build it,'' Searcy police Lt. Tim Webb said. ``They had to measure the area then match the stucco and the paint. They really went through some trouble.''

O'Brian said it appears the box was found before the thieves got any money.

``Even though it appears no one lost money in Searcy and that the only crime that was committed was criminal intent of theft, we want to share evidence with whoever is working on similar cases,'' O'Brian said. ``It would be good to help another agency solve this crime and stop these thieves.''

O'Brian said six other Arkansas cities have had thievery committed with the fake bank boxes. Branson, Mo., police reported victims of the crime in their city as well.

Police are investigating similar crimes in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, O'Brian said.