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How to rob a bank in the 21st century
Please don't actually do this
 
Yeah…this isn't going to cut it anymore.
Yeah…this isn't going to cut it anymore. (Facebook/Public Enemies)

Journalism was my second-choice for a career. In actual fact I wanted to be a bank robber. The guns, the one-liners, the money — I wanted it all. It wasn't fear holding me back, as such, it was simply the fact that you couldn't hold up a bank these days the way they did back maybe 30, 40 — or even 20 — years ago. But, like a concert pianist with stubby fingers, or a ballerina with a bum leg, I still pore over my childhood dream with obsession, crying late into the night over blueprints and plastic explosives.

I never told you any of this, mum.

But I'm gonna be straight: These days, you can't rob banks with a classic "stick 'em up," have the teller fill your bag, and escape in your get-away vehicle. It's just not going to happen. These days biometric technologies (eye/fingerprint scanning and the like), time-locked vaults, silent alarms, exploding dye packs — sometimes concealed within the money itself — will make a hash job of your heist.

You're not out of options: Crafty criminals have adapted to new technologies almost as fast as banks have been installing them. Security has moved into a more digital era — yes — but its dangers are that they are now automated and that the people using them barely understand the technology. A criminal with a sound understanding of the fairly common-place technologies used in bank security is already fast on their way to understanding how the break open the bank… or better: 'Lift' the 'joint'.

Go where the money is

If you're happy to get "stuck in" with the bank robbing process, there are quite a few options available. On a relatively small scale, you can use clone debit cards, which can hack a bank from an ATM. For this to be effective, you'd need to disable the ATM's withdrawal limit, which mean you could withdraw more than the allotted few hundred dollars a day. The key to a good heist is speed: If you're slow, you get caught. Hackers can disable withdrawal fees online — in the U.S. at least. Alternatively, these intrepid individuals used oxyacetylene welders to bust open ATMs and just took the money. They kept portable acetylene tanks on-hand to perform the task over the course of a night.

A little more hardcore is the Brazilian bank heist that took place in 2005. A group of men bought a house in central Fortaleza, in the province of Ceará. They put up a sign calling themselves a landscaping company and over the course of three months tunneled beneath the house toward the vault of a Banco Central. They were meticulous — disabling the bank's alarm system before the grab, and spreading burnt lime around the property to prevent finger prints. The money — 160 million real-dollars ($73.2 million, £45.6 million) — was unmarked, meaning tracing was impossible.

Brazil recovered less than R$9 million of that money, and eight of a possible 25 perpetrators. But a word of caution: It wasn't all plain sailing after their success. The head of the operation — Luis Ribeiro — was killed in a botched robbery of the money he'd made. Many others in the gang are thought to be victims of kidnapping in return for a ransom. Ultimately, the moral is mum's the word, both for the police and the people around you.

Alternatively, there are the "smart" methods — although to be fair, tunneling under a bank isn't exactly easy. In September 2013, a group of thieves successfully stole 1.3 million pounds ($2.1 million) from the British bank Barclays. The "Barclays Gang" posed as IT workers and, during their "operation," set a KVM (keyboard-video-mouse) which allows someone to access the computer remotely. They then siphoned off the money — transferring it from customer accounts to their own bank accounts. This is apparently a "hot" technique — so get it while you can before the opportunity closes.

There are, of course, phishing scams to think of. We've all gotten the email — "Nigerian general", "Lloyds will close your account" etc. — but how effective are they? Apparently, annually about 0.5 percent of a bank's customers will fall for phishing scams, and the money made could be very small, break-even amounts, to the tune of $10 million. A scam set-up is said to cost in the region of $500. Not a direct bank robbery, but you get there in the end. More to the point, would Robin Hood go phishing? Probably not.

There's a few things to remember about living your life afterward. If the money is "marked," i.e. if it is identifiable as stolen currency, you need to deposit it abroad or look for "unscrupulous" individuals. Don't flaunt your money, for goodness sake. If you had the patience to plan the heist, have the patience to spend it at an inauspicious rate. Alternatively, you could money launder Breaking Bad-style. I'm not recommending this course of action, just saying it exists.

Well, there's some ideas to kick around on a rainy day. Crime can pay, if you've got the smarts, the right guys, and a little seed money. The most important thing to remember is: Do the unexpected. Be "the smartest guy in the room." Don't get caught. And whatever you do, do NOT take me seriously. I'm just joking. Jeez. Chill.

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