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Posted by on Apr 2, 2013 in Random Facts, Trivia and Weirdness | 5 comments

B is for Bank Robbery

Gold Brick Custom USB DrivesToday is Day B and I’ve got bank robbery on the brain, y’all.

As many of you probably don’t know, I spent a number of years working for a major national bank before I figured out that people would actually pay me to stay home and write in my yoga pants. Like any good bank employee, I used to give more than a little thought to the subject. When I wasn’t worried that some idiot was going to stick a gun in my face over the five grand in the teller drawer, I would think about more serious ways to take down the bank.

Seriously, who hasn’t thought about robbing their evil employer blind and getting away from it?

I never did rob my bank, obviously, but it did give me the inspiration I needed to write The Alliance, the second book in my suspense series (available May 13, 2013).

But today, I thought it would be fun to separate a little fact from fiction when it comes to bank robbery.

The way banking really is

If you’ve watched any movies or TV shows, you’ve probably seen at least one bank heist movie. Infrared sensors, elaborate vault doors, retina scans, thumb-printing, voice recognition…Hollywood banks have all the bells and whistles. And if you can get through all the layers of technology and the Special Forces caliber security guards, you’ll find a magical room where giant stacks of cash and maybe some bricks of gold are ripe for the taking.

I was never so disappointed in my life as I was on my first day at the bank.

I got a couple grand in cash to look after in my teller drawer and the whole bank had maybe $100,000 in it. Totally not worth the effort it would take to put a ski mask on. Of course, the majority of criminals that hit the banks in our area didn’t even bother with ski masks, just ball caps. Cameras…pfft.

We didn’t even have any of the cool security features you’d see in the movies. No exploding dye packs. No electronic tracking sensors.

Nothing cool. Just silent alarm buttons and instructions to give the robber anything and everything they wanted. No heroics.

Where the real money is

No, I’m not going to give you the step by step instruction manual for bank robbery, but I will say this…There’s gobs of money the bank wouldn’t miss until you were kicked back drinking mojitos in a non-extradition country. Granted, you have to have considerable access, hacking skills and a way to pull it off electronically without someone from the security center instantly flagging what you’d done for review.

You would be ASTOUNDED by the number of bank employees who actually thought they could get away with transferring money from a giant business account directly into their personal account.

The real score in any bank is in the computer, not the vault…unless you want to try passing some traveler’s checks around town before they get reported stolen.

That’s probably why no one writes about real world bank robberies. A dude walking in wearing street clothes, asking for the cash without pulling a gun and walking out with less than it would take to buy a new car isn’t terribly exciting, is it?

How writers can make bank robbery exciting

Whenever a reader reads a book, they always expect that they’ll have to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the plot. Yes, a writer can absolutely abuse that by having laser grids that the criminals will cartwheel through in order to get to the solid gold bullion on the other side of the most elaborate vault door ever constructed. They can make the take from the heist so ridiculously large that there could be a moat guarded by laser beam wielding sharks in the way and it would still be worthwhile. (I would TOTALLY read that book, y’all.)

Or they can be reasonable, simply bending reality a bit in order to capitalize on what’s already there. Let me explain.

  • Cash on Hand – Given the right circumstances, banks will have more cash than usual chilling in the vault. While they might have a customer place a special order for a significant quantity, it’s more likely that their customers just had a lot of cash to deposit that week. You’d be surprised by how many people still pay for everything with cash.
  • Security Gadgets – Just because most banks don’t have all the cool security toys doesn’t mean they all don’t. Banks in high-risk neighborhoods and banks that have already been hit by a previous robbery will frequently beef up their security, some to the point of hiring private security to stand guard at all times.
  • Weapons – While bringing in your Uzi to scare the poor little teller is a bit unnecessary, it sure does up the danger factor. Besides, criminals in books don’t really care that turning a robbery into an armed robbery will tack a bunch of years onto their minimum sentence if they’re caught. No, they take their badassery to a whole new level. They have to. No one wants to read about the dork in a baseball cap who writes the holdup request on the back of a deposit slip where he’s filled out his name and account number. (True story. Some criminals are just that dumb.)
  • Disguises – For the love of all that is fiery and impure, please let the bank robbers wear a disguise. Clown masks, dead presidents, cat burglar attire…I totally don’t care. Dude walks into the bank on a bright sunny day in any sort of a costume and you know shit just got real. (Consequently, some banks won’t allow customers to wear their Halloween masks inside the premises if they have banking needs that day because it diminishes the effectiveness of surveillance.)

So, here’s the thing, y’all…In the real world, this perfect storm of cash on hand, security awesomeness, disguises and advanced weaponry really doesn’t happen. I once worked with a guy who was escorted back to the vault with a machine gun barrel to the back of his head, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

But in writing, since most people don’t understand how boring bank robbery really is in really for real life, the writer gets to play a bit, raising the stakes and ratcheting up the tension. And I won’t lie…I totally played, y’all, and its awesomeness was epic.

Once I figure out how to marry bank robbery and serial killers…I will NEVER run out of book plots. ;)

And with that bombshell, we must end. (I’ve been watching SO much Top Gear lately.) Next up: C is for Coincidence. Don’t miss it!

Do you have a burning question about bank security or bank robbery in the real world? I’m not going to give you the blueprints or anything, but I’ll play Q&A in the comments for a while.

© 2013 – 2015, Sydney Katt. All rights reserved.

photo by: molotalk
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5 Comments

  1. Well, this is very, very interesting and insightful! Never thought about the real-world stuff, just the glorified movie/tv/book versions! Thanks Sydney. :-)

    • Most real life bank robbery stories are more comical than suspenseful. Total lack of common sense among some bank robbers. I mean…come on. Wouldn’t you cover your face in some way if you noticed a wall of cameras behind the tellers? It’s not like they try to make those things blend in or anything.

  2. Great post – I would love a thriller that contained real life bank robbers – badly written demands and baseball caps and all (guess the thrills would have to come from the writer back cashier).

    • I might be able to think of a few ways to spice it up…in future books. Too much non-robbery stuff to get on the page first. ;)

  3. Couldn’t find your “C” or “D” post but we found your “B”! And Bank Robberies are scary!
    Dani & Jax @ Cover Girls

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