Bank robbers prefer laptops to guns

A man uses a laptop computer at a wireless cafe.

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Kai Ryssdal: The Justice Department has indicted eight computer hackers who prosecutors say pulled off a global ATM heist last year. Computers at the Royal Bank of Scotland were hacked. The thieves then allegedly cloned ATM cards and started withdrawing. They're said to have gotten $9 million in a matter of hours. Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson reports from New York that the bank robbery of the future has become the bank robbery of the present.


BANK ROBBER: Now, don't anybody make a move. Remember my men at the door have got you all covered.

That old-fashioned bank robbery scene from Abbot and Costello is just that -- old fashioned.

Ori Eisen with 41st Parameter advises financial institutions on how to stop the new heists. They're online, and he says that gives robbers three advantages: scale, anonymity and speed.

ORI EISEN: There's a very famous caricature that shows somebody robbing a bank, and the teller is telling them, "You know, you can do it much easily online today."

Eisen says more money is now stolen with the click of a mouse than at the point of a gun.

EISEN: Fraud is usually seen as a cost of doing business, so even if we'll see that it is in the billions on the scale of the top 10 banks, they still have enough revenue coming in to cover for it.

The FBI says online theft doesn't pose a threat to the entire economic system.

Shawn Henry is an assistant director with the FBI's cyber program. But he says hackers are getting more dangerous every day.

SHAWN HENRY: You know we see this sometimes as a cyber arms race. The bad guys are constantly looking for new opportunities to breach networks, and often times the offense outpaces the defense.

Henry says the victims will be institutions and consumers, many of whom don't even notice that money has been stolen from their accounts.

In New York, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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