Let’s all go rob a bank

If I walk into a shop, pick up any item and then walk out again, the chances are that store security will stop me and I’ll probably end up in court pretty soon. Likewise if I walked into a bank branch and demanded all the cash, it’s likely my face will end up on Crimewatch UK and the court will beckon. So I won’t try either of those crimes (even if Orange is the New Black…). Basically I know that the Police and powers that be will come after me. However, if I wanted to steal for a living and get away with it, I’ll probably turn to electronic payments. Why? Because the Police are badly hindered on following up on this type of crime and even if the Bank manages to claim some of their money back, I’ll probably get away with it for long enough to enjoy my spoils – and of course, the person that I’d have stolen from gets their money back thanks to the Payment Services Directive.

OK, so now I have my crime identified, how would I do it? ATM skimmer to get card details? Download a keylogger from the dark web and then mail it to everyone I know? Or perhaps something more subtle, targeted – go after someone that I know has plenty of cash, which they’ll get back so I’m only really borrowing it from them, a bank loan so to speak.

I could pick someone vulnerable. Perhaps someone that trusts me so won’t mind me going in their purse – and won’t see me photographing both sides of their bank card. Perhaps I can even use their PC while they are out of the room or sleeping. Yes, that’ll be easy. I’ll pay off my credit cards, book myself a holiday and send sums of money to my different accounts. Best of all, I know that if I don’t take too much or too often, the Police will assign it to an overly busy beat cop who has no time to investigate, because this type of crime has no victims – except the Banks, and no-one really cares about them, do they?

Except these crimes do have victims. Particularly the vulnerable in our community like my mother-in-law, Linda. She recently passed away after a long struggle with illness that left her quadriplegic and reliant on carers and service providers, into which she had to place huge amounts of trust. And one of them betrayed that trust. Taking away one of the few remaining independent areas of her life – her financial independence. This week the Police in Ayrshire gave us an apology after 6 months of achieving nothing of note when investigating the crime. A vulnerable, trusting woman had her life savings cleared out by someone close to her and the Police were powerless to do anything because they have too little time and expertise, and because the Banking industry fails to cooperate quickly in convicting criminals of this type.

In this instance, Linda’s Bank, HBOS, acted positively as you would expect. They refunded her money and helped set up her online banking with out-of-band authentication for new recipients to prevent future occurrences. They also compiled a dossier of all the outgoing transaction information that the Police would need to secure the conviction of this malicious, deceitful miscreant that had severely abuse their position (and who had likely targeted other vulnerable people for whom they should be caring). But the Police can do nothing, because although they know where the money went, getting recipient information in the right evidenciary format from other Banks often requires warrants. HBOS should be really angry about this – after all, they paid to put things right and no-one is being held to account for that due to the lack of responses from fellow regulated entities: Amex; Barclaycard; Sainsbury’s Bank; Virgin Money; and NewDay Ltd.

In the last months of Linda’s life after this theft, things got increasingly difficult. This callous crime didn’t kill her, but it chipped away further at her ability to live independently, making her feel her vulnerability and eroding her trust in all those around her. And the Police can do nothing.

It took a fair while to get in touch with the Police to find out what they hadn’t done. And of course the stock answers were ‘lack of resources, she got her money back, not a priority for the type of officer assigned’, but most interestingly, it seems that despite the wealth of KYC and transactional data available at the 6 financial institutions involved, there is not a simple request and supply relationship that gets criminals caught and convicted. It’s a real shame that process is forcing Police Scotland to fail the most vulnerable people in their community in this way. Shame on you all.

It’s about time that financial institutions and those investigating financial crimes got together to sort out simplified process, standard information sharing formats and put a little investment into making sure that thieves are prosecuted because getting your money back is little compensation for losing your independence. It’s also about time that Police Scotland realised that 6 months to solve a crime with a data-rich audit trail is simply not good enough – 2016 should be the year that they change this.

Still, on the bright side, if I’m ever short on cash I know what to do. Why more people don’t rob banks I don’t know  – after all, it looks like you’ll get away with it because the Police will be able to do nothing and the Banks don’t care.

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