Days of the 'bank job' are numbered, report suggests

By Dave Lee
Technology reporter, BBC News

image captionRobberies like this are becoming far less common, with greater rewards for criminals to be found by targeting financial services online

The number of robberies on British bank branches has dropped by 90% in the past decade, figures from the British Bankers Association suggest.

The BBA said there were 66 robberies in 2011, compared to 847 in 1992.

The drop has been attributed to a raft of innovative technologies making it extremely difficult for "traditional" robbery tactics to work.

"Banks are working hard to confine armed robberies to the world of TV dramas," BBA chief Anthony Browne said.

"Being caught up in a bank job is a terrifying ordeal for staff and customers that can scar lives for decades.

"It's great to see that the number of these crimes have fallen sharply in recent years. Anyone trying to rob a bank now faces much better CCTV, protective screens that can rise in less than a second and even special fog designed to disperse criminals.

"Banks will continue to work closely with each other, post offices and the police to make such raids a thing of the past."

Disorientating fog

A similar trend has been noted in the US, where FBI figures for 2012 put the number of bank robberies nationwide at 3,870 - the lowest in decades.

In an effort to deter criminals and make branch workers safer, banks have made significant investments in security technology.

These range from simple barriers - which drop down when a panic button is pressed - to special "fog" that disorientates criminals.

"DNA" spray is another common deterrent - robbers are coated with a unique, traceable material that is extremely difficult to wash off skin and can prove that a suspect was at the premises of a robbery.

Combined, the measures mean the risks outweigh any potential gains - particularly as bank branches typically store less cash on the premises than in previous years.

Shift to online

However, while brute-force bank robberies are dropping, banks - and their customers - are still under threat from crime.

Official statistics from the Met Police confirm that business robberies were down 31% in London over the past decade, reports the BBC's business correspondent Joe Lynam, but some thieves have switched their focus to the vehicles that transport money between banks.

More significant is the growing rate of cyber-crime relating to banks and other financial transactions.

media captionLoretta Lynch, US Attorney: "Instead of guns and masks they used laptops and malware"

Recently, 40 million credit card details held by major US retail chain Target were compromised and are now being sold online. The attack, according to one security researcher, originated in Ukraine.

In a separate attack, criminals based in New York obtained $45m (£29m) by accessing a database of information used by cash machines. Seven men were charged in May.

Beyond bank details, hackers - the new generation of robbers - are also scooping up personal details and packaging them up to be sold on.

Full dossiers of information about an individual, including bank details, are routinely sold on the online black market for around $30, a recent study suggested.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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