Bank robberies down despite tough times

August 3, 2011 4:56:56 AM PDT
Robbers walked into two Chicago-area banks Tuesday and announced holdups. That makes nearly 50 bank robberies in metro Chicago so far this year. But that number is actually well below previous years.

With only five months left in the year, metro Chicago bank robberies are on track to total well below last year's mark of 173 stick-ups, and there could be the fewest number of bank robberies around Chicago in almost a decade. The number of bank robberies has fallen nationwide as well, which is not what one would expect during high unemployment and tough economic times.

Even though bank robberies are down, there were still more than 5,500 of them in the United States last year, and 203 in Illinois.

This year, though, the trend is still downward, although two hits on one day in metro Chicago was unusual.

Bank security camera photos of Tuesday's Chicago hold-up show one reason why bank robbers may be deterred: Higher quality images.

The FBI says the man who robbed a Bank of America branch on North Lincoln Avenue threatened to do harm, agents say, but showed no weapon. He was given an undisclosed amount of money and escaped.

Tuesday's second stick-up was by another man at the TCF Bank branch in the 9300-block of West Irving Park Road in Schiller Park. He too showed no weapon. The case is being called an "attempted robbery" because no cash was listed as missing.

There is one other reason that FBI officials say bank robberies may be down: A two-year old website called bandittrackerchicago.com. It is a group effort by federal and local law enforcement that allows bank robbery information to be seen much faster by the public and allows Internet users to view bank photos, details of hold ups and descriptions of the bandits, along with a map that pinpoints where banks have been held up.

An FBI spokesman credits tips from the website for the capture of some bank robbers, along with work by the federal violent crimes task force.

Even though the FBI has turned significant resources to counter-terrorism, one of the bureau's basic focuses is bank and financial fraud and bank robberies, and in some areas there is a ways to go. Only 20 percent of the millions of dollars stolen every year from banks is recovered and returned.

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