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.


Stephen S. Power

Here's a true robbery story: I went to the University of Florida and lived one year in a place called Hidden Village. It was a little apartment complex down a small road that first passed another complex and ended in a trailer park. At the entrance to the trailer park was a 24 hour store. One Monday afternoon a guy came in, pulled a gun, robbed the place and ran back up the road to the highway. The next day, the same guy came in, same time as Monday, and robbed the place again. Wednesday, same deal, same time. At this point, the GPD recognized a pattern and staked the place out. Sure enough, on Thursday the guy came down the road, same time, and robbed the place, but this time a cops met him as he left (why they let him rob the place a fourth time, I don't know). A firefight ensued, and the robber was shot dead. The morale of the story: if you're going to rob a place four days in a row, don't take the same bus to do it every time.

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Mike

I work for Chase and we are required to take at least one 5-straight-days vacation per year and this is exactly the reason why.

goethe

I had always thought part of the Securities Act(s) of 1933/1934 all federally chartered banks were required to have each employee take two weeks off consecutively for this very reason.

Barney D.

I've heard similar stories before, and always with them the statement that that is why employees are often required to take vacations.

Mike B

Back in the day when trolley car transit systems operated with conductors who manually collected fares from riders a fairly high proportion would find ways to skim fares by failing up ring up riders and then pocketing their payment. Like the bank workers taking vacations presented a problem because a relief man would cause a sudden jump in ridership. The trick to take vacations was to gradually ramp down the amount of skim, take the vacation, then gradually ramp the skimming up again so to an auditor it looked like a normal ridership fluctuation. In this case a key indicator of fraud would have been workers who never called in sick, but that would probably have resulted in many false positives.

Ian

Robbing banks on Thursday makes a lot of sense if you know when they take their money delivery. When I used to work at a bank the money guys would come every wednesday afternoon and either pick money up or drop it off depending on how that week had gone. In either case the bank always ended up with about the same amount of money the next day and more importantly, we always had a good supply of large bills for the tellers where in other parts of the week we may or may not have had large bills. You miss out on a chance for a "big heist" but you're basically a lock to get a pretty big take.

JT in NC

Anyone see where Jay Leno refuses to take vacation?

Kind of makes you wonder.

Brent

The Societe General story is a completely different situation. That trader built up his losses quickly in a matter of a week or two, not over the course of time. He also never would have been able to get his hands on the actual money, only be able to report the profits for his bonus. A little different than this embezzlement story.

BONA

"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."

I think that he FDIC coming on Fridays may have a lot to do with robbing banks on Thursday.

Yvonne

In the UK banking industry, you are required to take a LEAST one vacation of at LEAST two weeks in length for this reason. In fact, most industries would think you were strange if you didn't take at least one vaca of at least 2 weeks per year. I just don't understand the mentality of workaholism in the US. It is well proven not to bring about greater productivity per capita - in fact, as this article illustrates - it is often seriously counter-productive.

Grant

Couldn't this principle be used to catch non-financial embezzlement as well?

Let's pretend* that I am a very lazy worker, and that I take a full week to do my job, complaining all the time that I'm so overworked, but really, I'm just lazy, so I could do it in three days or so. Wouldn't forcing me to take a vacation expose that laziness?

I think they call this "stealing time", sometimes.

Frankly, it would do people good if everyone was forced to take their two weeks vacation consecutively. Now we just have a business case to make for it.

(*pretending may actually reflect reality)

Kevin L.

The two week rule is only as good as its enforcement. Back in 1980 or so, a bank branch manager for Wells Fargo embezzled over $21 million by kiting interbranch transfers to keep the account of an outside company he controlled solvent. Investigators discovered he had taken his required vacation - but came into the office for an hour or two at least one day during it, making it look like dedication instead of fraud.

Paul T.

I work for a big financial services firm, so I'm really getting a kick out of these replies.

Johnny E

Reminds me of Butch Cassidy, towards the end of the movie. They were nervously guarding the moneybag for the payroll until the old mine owner set them straight. They don't rob us when we go to pick up the money, they rob us on the way back.

A. B.

I was an IT and financial auditor working for the government accountability office in Brazil for several years, and both segregation of duties and 2 consecutive weeks of vacation were required controls in audited organizations.

Some high-risk activities als required staff rotation. Perhaps being a country that has been fighting corruption since its inception makes us more prepared to avoid cases like Bernice Geiger's.

John Rennie

Another warning sign is the employee who always arrives early. They're the ones who sort out the mail. They make sure that all the complaints from the customers that they deal
with personally are never seen by anyone else.

ACW

Among the stories in my collection of old anthologies from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, at least one hinges on the "never takes a vacation" tip-off. The story has a twist, though:

After the employee has stashed her ill-gotten gains and covered her tracks, she retires to a nice bungalow which has, alas, an awful lawn. She sinks a lot of money into trying to upgrade that lawn, to no avail, and makes plans to take that around-the-world cruise she's always dreamed of. One day a visitor calls on her - an investigator hired by the bank to trace that missing money. When he attempts to blackmail her, and idiotically reveals he's come alone on foot without telling anyone else where he's gone, she delivers a fatal whack with a knick-knack, and buries the body that night in the front yard. Soon the lawn grows - or at least part of it. The parched terrain is marked by a body-shaped patch of lush green. She cancels her vacations - for the rest of her life - doomed to mow the lawn every few days.

Unfortunately I am now (on break) at work, and the book is at home, so I can't check the author and title of this short story.

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Joe Kline

SOS! Bernanke and Geithner have not taking vacation for a long long time, how concerned should we all be, given the nation is practically in their pockets. Or it is way too late now?

Jake

For awhile, I audited sales employees for a financial services company. Employees that cheerfully did things that would normally cause everyone else to complain were red flags for further investigation.

More than once, we found improper activity because an employees had regularly not requested payment for reimburseable business expenses.
Most sales employees want to be reimbursed as quickly as possible for as much as possible. A sales person that is happily getting under reimbursed....

Bobby G

Isn't this why virus protection companies hire former hackers (aka white-hat hackers)?