Bank robberies is a tradition almost as American as apple pie, and every quarter the Federal Bureau of Investigation lays on the public a report that gives as glimpse into the bank robberies that occur across the nation.

While Hollywood has made big money off bank robbery heist movies, one would be surprised to know that only about 2 out of every 100 robberies that occur in the United States are bank robberies according to figures from a 2007 report released by the U.S. Department of Justice. Yet, despite their rare occurrence, its impossible to ignore psychological harm these types of crimes can inflict on both the victims and communities involved.

The rate of bank robberies in the United States climbed significantly between 1965 and 1975—quadrupling from 847 to 3,517—which eventually prompted lawmakers to pass the Bank Protection Act of 1968. The law currently requires financial institutions and relevant government agencies to implement minimum security standards to protect bank branches, consumers and bank employees in the event of a heist.

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3 Factors Contribute to Bank Robberies

Bank crimes occur for a number of reasons, but the Justice Department attributed their occurrence primarily to three factors.

Factor #1: Growth of banking outlets and the extended hours.

While the number of banking branches in the United States stood somewhere at around 22,000 in 1970, that number more than tripled thirty years later in 2000. In-store branches such as those found in Walmart retail stores helped to fuel the growth of banking branches and, with it, the rate of bank robberies in the U.S.

Factor #2: Big Money

Criminals also make banking branches their prime targets simply because it’s lucrative, with the average robber banking $4,000 per heist according to the Justice Department. While bank robberies make up less than 10 percent of all commercial robberies, bank criminals walk away with about 60 percent of all financial losses sustained in these type of crimes. Moreover, 80 percent of the money stolen during bank robberies in the U.S. is never returned.

Factor #3: Minimum Risk for A High Pay-Off

Bank branch employees aren’t trained to be heroes—they’re trained to be fully compliant with perpetrators, and are unarmed. In addition, banking branches usually have very similar layouts and procedures that can make it easy for criminals to plan their attacks.  Because of this, more than two-thirds of bank robberies are completed within three minutes or less, and oftentimes the criminals are so stealth that banking customers may not even be aware that a robbery is taking place until after the fact.

When you factor in the high success rate of bank robbers in the U.S.—just 10 percent of all bank robberies fail—then you’ll begin to understand why criminals opt to commit these sort of crimes. But, short of keeping your money under a mattress, just remember that there are at least some ways to avoid being involved in a bank robbery

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself:

While no one can predict if and when they will be involved in a bank robbery event, a quick look into FBI bank crime statistics from the second quarter of this year shows that Friday is the best day to avoid heading to your bank’s branch. During the rest of the week, it’s also best to avoid your bank between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.

If you live in an urban area then you’ll also want to proceed with caution when heading to your banking branch, since bank robberies typically in these types of cities.  While banking branches in poorer areas make ideal targets for criminals since banking branches are less concentrated, the converse effect of this is that more affluent communities actually experience a greater number of bank robberies since financial institutions tend to build more branches in these type of ares.

Luckily for the public, the likelihood of catching a perpetrator who robs a bank is actually much higher than it is for other types of crimes tracked by the federal government. One reason for this is that bank crimes are usually reported much more quickly than other types of crimes. Bank robberies also mostly occur during the day, and involve several witnesses that are then later able to more accurately identify suspects. Because of this, a sizable portion of bank criminals are actually caught within 24 hours of committing their crimes, while the clearance rate for bank robberies (meaning, the number of cases that ultimately result in a charge being filed) hovers at nearly 60 percent.

If you’re really terrified of becoming the victim of a bank robbery, then there’s no better time than now to take advantage of online banking, which most U.S. banks offer. Direct banking options are also available through financial institutions such as Ally Bank and ING Direct. Both options require minimal interaction with banking branches if any, and offer the convenience of banking either at home or on the go.

Carolyn Okomo is a finance writer and the Tuesday columnist for You can follow her tweets @CarolynMBT.

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