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.


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  1. charles says:

    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.

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  2. Olivier Peltier says:

    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…

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  3. trader n says:

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

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  4. RichmondTom says:

    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”.

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  5. David Anderson says:

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

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  6. JH says:

    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.

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  7. Trader Joe says:

    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.

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  8. JeremyN says:

    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.

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