Is bank robbery possible these days?

Published 20.01.2023

The physical assets of banks are well protected and there is rarely anything worth stealing from bank branches themselves. Some banks, like Holm, get by without any branches at all. The electronic assets of banks are also well protected, thanks to strong cybersecurity measures. So is it even possible for bank robbers to rob anything these days?

As the world changes, so does the modus operandi of criminals. Instead of masked robbers, we are faced with an increasing number of scammers who, instead of stealing from banks themselves – which these days is far too difficult, if not impossible – seek to cheat bank clients out of their money by abusing their trust, capitalising on moments of inattention or simply bamboozling them.

Holm’s head of cyber security and business continuity, Alland Parman,explains how these people operate and how clients can better protect their savings.

“If you’re at a bank branch and you want to make a transfer, then it’s straightforward,” he says: “the teller makes sure you’re the person the money belongs to or that you have the authority to perform the transaction.”

But how does a bank know who is transferring funds if everything is done electronically?

“Banks do everything they can to make sure they know who the person performing a transaction is and that they’re doing so of their own free will,” Alland explains. “Because the request to perform it can only be made by someone who has something and knows something. They might have a virtual bank card on their phone, say, or a bank or ID card in their wallet and the PIN they need in order to be able to use it. Hopefully they’ll know that by heart and not have it saved on their phone or written down somewhere. When there’s both the card and the code, the bank’s convinced that the transaction’s genuine.”

Alland says these two things represent a client’s first line of defence against fraudsters and scammers. “With your ID card, for example, and its codes, make sure strangers never get their hands on them,” he cautions. “Don’t keep both your card and a piece of paper with the PINs written on it in your wallet, since if your wallet’s lost or stolen, they’ll be easy pickings.”

Identity theft can be prevented

Alland says fraud linked to identity theft is also widespread. “Just think what could happen if you lent someone your ID card and gave them the PINs for it,” he warns. “They could take out a loan in your name, or buy stuff on hire purchase, then give you back your card with a bunch of obligations you’re completely unaware of – until the bank comes knocking on your door demanding you repay your debt.” The outcome could be even worse, he adds, if you were to share your Mobile ID or Smart ID codes with others. “Anyone who knows your ID code and mobile number could take a crack at logging in to your Internet bank,” he explains. “Suddenly this message pops up on your screen asking for your PIN. You might be thinking, ‘Come on, surely no one’s that stupid that they’d just put it in.’ But banks all too often have to deal with clients who claim they never took out such-and-such a loan and that somebody else must have done it without them knowing.”

In such cases, Alland stresses, clients should always contact the police. “That way they can look into it and, if they – and the client – are lucky, pinpoint and prosecute the perpetrator. But if a contract gets signed using your digital identity, then you are responsible for it and it’s up to you to prove it wasn’t you who signed it. That’s never easy, so it’s always better to stop and think before entering your PIN whenever something pops up on your screen.”

Not everything may be as it appears

A less common but more intriguing scam, Alland says, is the manipulation of what people see on their computer screens. This type of fraud has been used by criminals in different parts of the world in recent years. People are tricked into entering their passwords and personal details on websites that look almost exactly the same as their Internet bank. “One day you might be checking your account balance on your bank’s proper website and you notice that there’s more money in your account than there should be,” Alland explains. “That should be an instant red flag and see you tread carefully, because it could mean someone’s gotten into your computer, whether from next door or half a world away.”

Alland also describes a scam whereby people receive a call, ostensibly from their bank, an IT company or the police, informing them that there has been some sort of scam or mistake and that they should log in to their Internet bank. They are also asked to install a programme on their computer so that the caller can ‘assist’ them – allowing the caller to control the computer thereafter. “You log in to your bank in a perfectly law-abiding manner, but then the scammer remotely takes control of your computer for a second and you see that by some ‘mistake’ a huge amount of money’s been deposited in your account,” Alland says. “It’s not there at all, of course – the scammer’s fiddled around in your web browser and shown you what they want you to see. Being an honest and upright person, you want to pay the money back, and voilà! You lose all your money, because you’re transferring your own funds, not the made-up amount that was never there to begin with.”

Fake webpages and social media scams

Other common scams, Alland says, involve fraudsters creating fake social media pages that look like a bank’s Facebook page and in whose name there is only one letter or symbol different from the name of the actual page. On such pages, people are encouraged to click on a link and log in or enter their details in order to check certain data. Prize draws are also used to contact participants and ensnare them with fake messages saying they have won. It pays to remember that banks do not normally ask you to log in to a site in order to claim a prize.
“Keep your eyes open and be on your guard,” cautions Alland. “More often than not you should think about and check things before you log in to some site or enter your details anywhere. The risks are real.”

Caution and vigilance help to avoid unpleasant surprises

So although you are only likely to encounter bank robbers in films and on TV these days, scammers and fraudsters remain a real-life problem and are just as eager to cheat you out of your money. By exercising caution and staying vigilant, and encouraging your friends and family to do likewise, you can avoid the schemes outlined above and other unpleasant situations. Happy – and safe – banking!

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