When to Rob a Bank

Here’s a story about a guy who robbed six banks in New Jersey but only on Thursdays. “No reason was given for choosing that particular day,” notes the A.P. article. Perhaps he knew something about how the banks did business; perhaps his astrologist told him Thursdays were lucky; perhaps it simply fit his schedule.

In any case, it reminded me of a story I once heard about an Iowa bank employee named Bernice Geiger, who was arrested in 1961 for embezzling more than $2 million over the course of many years. The bank happened to be owned by her father. Bernice was reportedly very generous, giving lots of the money away. Upon her arrest, the bank went bust. Sent to prison, she was paroled five years later, and moved back in with her parents, who apparently were forgiving types.

Geiger was reportedly exhausted by the time she was arrested. Why? Because she never took vacations. This turned out to be a key component in her crime. As the story goes — this was told to me by a retired Sioux City cop, though I’ve never been able to confirm it — the reason she never took vacations was that she was keeping two sets of books and couldn’t risk a fill-in employee discovering her embezzlement. The most interesting part, according to the cop, is that after prison Geiger went to work for a banking oversight agency to help stop embezzlement. Her biggest contribution: looking for employees who failed to take vacation. This simple metric turned out to have strong predictive power in stopping embezzlement.

I wish I had more details, and/or I wish I knew how true this story may be. But the point is that, like cheating schoolteachers or colluding sumo wrestlers, the people who steal money from banks sometimes leave telltale patterns — whether it’s a lack of vacation or a string of Thursdays — that point the finger right at them.


charles

I had heard something very similar in grad-school where certain companies required their executives to not only take the required vac time but to take at lease one full week off. The purpose was fraud protection...no citations though - sorry.

Olivier Peltier

In the financial markets industry we are required to take holidays so that our positions/risk/P&L can be analysed and scrutinised...Societe Generale lost Eur5bn last year as it was trying to minimise the losses incurred by a trader who had built up a very large position through unauthorised trades... he had not taken a day off that year...

trader n

Never taking vacations is a well known tip off. Jerome Kerviel never took vacations either.

RichmondTom

I believe that many financial institutions have a rule requiring ceratin employees take a minimum one week vacation every 12 months (or some such period) for just this very reason. Google "embezzlement" and "vacation".

David Anderson

That's why many regulators have mandatory vacation requirements. In the UK the FSA mandates 10 contiguous business days.

JH

I was a trader at GS, and when the trader who sat next to me took his first vacation, the ops guys came to me when they found a small typo in one of his trade confirms. That led to another, and another, and all of the typos (surprise!) were in his favor. Further investigation showed that the typos had not been in the original confirms, but had been added later, presumably when he'd needed a little profit boost to cover losses.

He got his box of personal effects and a security escort off the premises, and -- because the internal investigation group couldn't *prove* intentional wrongdoing -- a big check to cover his first-year guarantee.

Trader Joe

Commercial employees on the investment banking side of J. P. Morgan are required to take two consecutive weeks off each year for this very reason.

JeremyN

I used to work for a large investment firm that required all groups that directly handled money to take a minimum of 5 consecutive days of vacation. They felt that during that time they would be able to figure out if you were doing anything wrong. I've heard of other places that require 2 weeks of consecutive vacation a year.

Jake Taylor

On a smaller scale, used to work for a (now bought-out) national bank down south, in a branch. We had a teller pocket $4000, apparently on a whim. She was able to successfully cover up the shortage in her drawer for over a year by never taking more than five days off in a row, by which she avoided a drawer audit - until she had to miss extended time for a relatively serious illness, at which point she was caught.

econobiker

"Burnice Geiger, who was arrested in 1961 for embezzling more than $2 million over the course of many years."

Which is equivalent to about what- maybe $100 million now? She certaintly was a busy lady...

p

Actually, it is a Federal Reserve banking regulation that all essential employees take 2 consecutive weeks of vacation every year for exactly this reason; fraud prevention.

Christopher

I'm suprised some sort of redundancy isn't required in the financial sector (e.g. all activity must be handled by two people).

Or, some sort of rotation (e.g. the same person can't deal with the same accounts/trades/books forever.)

Jim

There is a Realtor office my wife worked at where all four owners basically "switch" jobs (president, treasurer, secretary, etc) each year and rotate positions to avoid this problem.

Matt

Frank Abagnale, of "Catch Me if You Can" fame, wrote a second book entitled "Art of the Steal." It details may instances of this same "no vacation" principle applied to embezzlers. A fantastic read.

John Updike

When "60 Minutes" recently ran a story about an FDIC takeover of a failing bank, I hit on a perfect bank robbery scheme: visit a bank on a Friday night and pretend you're the FDIC coming to seize it. You'd need a team of people dressed appropriately, but the management of a failing bank would probably be befuddled enough to fall for it. Then you "count" up the cash and leave.

Trader Joe: "Commercial employees on the investment banking side of J. P. Morgan are required to take two consecutive weeks off each year for this very reason."

Wow. Don't banks also do internal audits, fer chrissake?

acidtest

talking about patterns, i was told that during its bailout by the french state, the reportedly bankrupted Crédit Lyonnais has witnessed a sharp decrease in robberies against its branches in the next following years. Could not check it, but the idea that the bank financial situation influences the cash in its branches is fun, and gives the robber some rational economic behaviour

Would be fun to check, if this phenomemon (i could not checked it) would replicate in current times, when all banks have virtually failed.

Joe Smith

The book-keeper who never takes vacations is a standard warning sign of embezzlement. Another common feature is the "helpful" worker who offers to carry out someone else's job function (for example reconciling the till at the end of the day) avoiding having a second person check their work.

JimBob

Our bank mandates a 5 consecutive business day vacation. At that time, they shut you out of the system so you can't access it remotely (i.e. laptop, email, etc.). All for the reasons mentioned above.

Mike

Citigroup requires two continuous weeks vacation for employees with access to cash or bank accounts. Other employees must take at least one continuous week, but the policy says that this isn't to be interpreted as saying they may not take 2 straight weeks.

For some bank positions, like ATM stockers, they used to have 2 people work together to check each other. Now, they tend to go with the theory that if there's only one person doing the job and something is missing, your investigation takes far less time.

I used to work in the main bank of a casino in northern Nevada. We'd put together some pretty serious bank deposits for the day after a three-day weekend. One Tuesday after Labor Day, we had a canvas bag with a good seven figures, all cash, headed across the Idaho desert to the nearest bank. Legend had it that some former security guards at a casino in Reno knew exactly what time a cash bag would be carried across the floor. Two guys walked in the front doors - one punched the carrier in the face, the second grabbed the bag, and in thirty seconds they scored $4 million in cash.

So, if I was going to rob a bank, I'd do it right after a three-day weekend - when the deposits have had a chance to build up.

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Nick

My brother is a banker and he is forced to take a 2 weeks vacation straight every year for this reason. So someone else does his books for a while.