The fact that bank robberies have decreased is definitely good news. FBI statistics from 2010 and 2011 clearly show this favorable downward trend in what can be a costly, not to mention dangerous and deadly, crime.
It seems a combination of improved security practices, more effective law enforcement, and more stringent sentencing guidelines likely contributed to the decline. But, as with most crime statistics, the real story behind the decrease is a little more complex.
A Wall Street Journal article this week described the unexpected influence of cybercrime on bank robbery statistics. The rise of so called cyber gangs and the relative insecurity of online banking (as compared to the physical security of banking facilities) has lead to a sharp increase in online thefts from banks.
As the WSJ article points out, it’s estimated that nearly 2 billion dollars was stolen electronically from banks in 2010, with little to no physical risk or effort on the part of the offenders. So, it would appear cybercriminals are making a rational choice that is safer and possibly more lucrative than carrying out a face-to-face holdup.
This type of displacement is not unusual in street crimes. An effective police crackdown in one area of a city frequently disperses crime into other areas as offenders make the rational choice to move to a safer environment where they can offend in relative peace.
In some ways, the upward trend in online banking thefts is no different, with the notable exception that many of these crimes are committed outside U.S. territorial jurisdiction, making arrest and prosecution a near impossibility in many cases. Hacking tools are also available free online and are now more user-friendly than ever.
There is less and less incentive for dangerous armed holdups, which is good, but our banking accounts may actually be less safe than ever.