Bandits are losing interest in robbing banks, as some crimes no longer pay

Jay L. Zagorsky, Clinical associate professor, Boston University, The Conversation on

Published in Business News

Bank robbery is a high-profile crime that fascinates many people.

Movies have been made about famous bank robbers like Bonnie and Clyde, JohnDillinger and Butch Cassidy. There is even a new movie that just came out about Gilbert Galvan, Canada’s most prolific bank robber who robbed 59 banks in five years.

It might surprise you – as it did me – to learn that the number of bank robberies is the lowest it’s been in half a century.

That’s what I discovered while researching a book about the shift to a cashless economy. With people using less cash, I had expected fewer bank robberies. But I was startled to see that the downward trend started well before the cashless economy started springing up in the 2000s.

Movies often depict bank robbery as precision plots planned by smart crooks. However, this doesn’t match reality. Most bank robberies are committed by people simply walking in and demanding money from a teller.

In 2021, about 85% of bank crime was committed at the tellers’ counter. The vast majority of thieves either passed a note to the cashier or made a verbal demand. Very few incidents involved burglary, when a thief enters the bank during nonbusiness hours, or larceny, when money is stolen with no direct confrontation with employees.


Over half of all cases involve a weapon being brandished or a threat to use one. This results in many bank robberies becoming traumatic and dangerous events for employees and customers in the bank. Since 1999, 15 people have been killed in bank robberies, 94 were injured and 62 were taken hostage.

Law enforcement perpetuates the mystique of bank robbery by giving many robbers interesting nicknames, as you can see from the FBI website devoted just to them.

For example, the FBI is offering US$2,000 for information leading to the arrest of the “Bling Ring Bandit,” who stole an undisclosed sum from a bank in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while wearing a large gold-colored ring on his right little finger. My favorite is the “Ninja Bank Robber,” who was covered in black from head to toe during his April 2022 robbery.

Because there are different types of bank robberies, there are a variety of prison sentences for those caught. Robbers using force or violence get a maximum sentence of 20 years. Hurt someone while robbing a bank and the maximum sentence increases to 25 years. Kill someone and face death or life imprisonment.


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