The cases sound like elaborate bank heists in movies, but the rise of bank tellers stealing identities and draining big bank accounts is very much a reality. In the age of electronic banking and ATMS, tellers aren’t as necessary as they used to be and are often receiving lower wages because of it, which may be why some have turned to criminal activity to get by.
Tellers have a particular advantage with identity theft, having access to account holder’s personal data and cash. The New York Times reported that prosecutors, government officials and security experts are all warning the public to be aware of this danger, particularly the elderly or rich. Tellers also frequently target accounts with high balances or those with frequent deposits of government checks, like Social Security.
In most cases, tellers are accessing bank accounts to wire funds, make fake debit cards for ATM fraud or sell the information to other criminals.
“Bank tellers have access to very confidential data… they’re selling that to individuals on the outside, who will take that information and turn it into credit cards or checks,” New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance told ABC News.
The NY Times cited some recent cases of teller theft, the first in White Plains, NY where a teller was sentenced for being part of an identity theft ring that stole $850,000 from bank accounts. In 2014, a former teller at a Capital One branch in Maryland was sentenced for accessing several accounts and handing the information over to an accomplice who used it to draw checks. ABC News reported one anonymous victim who had thousands of dollars stolen from her just before her wedding. Chase Bank notified the woman that a bank teller had stolen her information, along with 28 other customers. Chase then alerted the authorities and refunded the victims their stolen funds.
What isn’t being done
While banks react to incidents once they occur, victims and prosecutors both believe more could be done to prevent the crimes in the first place. Vance told ABC News that he thought banks could be more proactive about reporting incidents to thwart future attempts.
“If it’s not reported to law enforcement, it’s just an invitation for that criminal to keep the money and go onto the next account or next bank,” he said.
According to the NY Times article, banks’ poor security and regulation efforts often obstruct justice in these cases. Banks also tend to close investigations after the criminal teller has left the company, allowing them to victimize customers at other banks.
It doesn’t make it easier that these crimes have become so easy for tellers to commit, especially without notice. In many cases, tellers withdraw sums under $10,000, forgoing the extra scrutiny required by banking laws. There is speculation that because of their low salaries, they are more likely to submit to bribes. Plus, many bank employees aren’t screened with extensive background checks, making it easier for someone with malicious intent or history of theft to access this critical information.
Despite these evident security fallbacks, the American Bankers Association issued a statement to ABC News to assure consumers that banks work tirelessly to prevent fraud, using software to monitor employees and promising to cover any losses experienced by customers affected by theft.
Whether or not you feel like you can trust your bank’s security, it’s important for individuals to take their protection against identity theft in their own hands. To do so, you can invest in a service like Identity Guard that can monitor your credit files for certain activity that may be indicative of fraud.