Bank Tellers, With Access to Accounts, Pose a Rising Security Risk
Bank robbers used to burst into banks brandishing guns and bearing notes demanding cash to the teller behind the window. Today, the thieves may be on the other side of the counter.As concerns over identity theft and foreign cyberattacks rise, customers are largely in the dark about a growing threat just around the corner: bank tellers and managers with instant access not only to their critical personal information, but also to their cash.
Though much of the focus on bank fraud has been on sophisticated hackers, it is the more prosaic figure of the teller behind the window who should worry depositors, according to prosecutors, government officials and security experts.
Tellers and those who oversaw them once played a sober, respected role in towns small and large, carefully counting out bills and peering at signatures. But A.T.M.s, direct deposits and electronic banking have diminished tellers’ importance, to the point that their work is now low paid and, prosecutors say, occasionally criminal.
Rich and elderly bank customers are particularly at risk, prosecutors say, when tellers and other retail-branch employees tap into accounts to wire funds without authorization, make fake debit cards to withdraw money from A.T.M.s and sell off personal information to other criminals. Accounts with high balances and those with direct deposits of government funds, like Social Security payments, are especially coveted.
“It’s a rampant problem,” said Brenda Fischer, chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau for the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The Manhattan prosecutor’s office estimates it brings at least one case against a teller per month.
Last year, a teller in White Plains was sentenced for her role in an identity theft ring that pilfered $850,000 from bank accounts. Wiretaps revealed that the defendants spoke in code about potential bank targets, referring to TD Bank as “touchdown” and JPMorgan Chase as “Yase.” A former teller at a Capital One branch in Maryland was sentenced in 2014 for gaining access to seven accounts and passing customer information to a co-conspirator who drew checks on the accounts.
The article doesn’t mention any way to protect yourself from this kind of thing though I suppose checking your balances often might help.