Banks generally prohibit customers entering their branches from wearing items that could shield their identities. No hoodies or sunglasses. Masks have been a big no-no.
“Wearing a mask at any businesses, especially a bank, just a few months ago would have raised a lot of eyebrows,” said Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association.
The American Bankers Association, the industry’s largest lobbying group, said Monday it was “urging” its members to require customers wear face masks. “We owe it to front-line bank staff to prioritize their safety and to contribute to the wider effort to limit the spread of this infection,” said Rob Nichols, the group’s president and chief executive.
But it’s not sustainable, he said. “Lengthy and potentially permanent requirements that individuals wear face masks in many or even all public spaces create the very real risk of increases in bank robberies,” he said.
There have already been “recent reports of face-covering-related robberies at bank branches … make clear that broadly applicable face mask requirements are not safe or sustainable on a permanent basis,” he said.
Another would-be robber in Florida, entered a Wells Fargo branch wearing sunglasses, gloves and a white cone-like mask over his face. He approached a teller’s window demanding money, according to the arrest warrant.
But the bank employee had trouble hearing the robber’s demands — through the mask. “The male got upset and repeated himself several times” and eventually left empty-handed, according to the arrest warrant.
“It appears the suspect was taking advantage of the COVID-19 protocols in wearing a mask to conceal his identity to commit crimes,” the warrant said.
Despite the robbery attempt, Wells Fargo began requiring customers to wear masks July 13. They are also required by Bank of America.
JPMorgan Chase said its employees are required to wear masks but they would comply with local ordinances when it comes to their customers. The bank says it is continuing to review its policies.
Of course, the threat of bank robberies has been fading for years as video surveillance inside and outside branches became common. There were 2,975 bank robberies in 2018, down from 7,556 in 2004, according to FBI statistics. Bank robberies are at their lowest level in three decades, according to the American Bankers Association.
More threatening for banking officials is not the would-be robber barging in their doors but the anonymous hacker sifting through their computer networks.
“There is a lot more risk now in robbing a bank,” said Jerry Clark, a former FBI agent and now an associate professor of criminal justice at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. “You take a lot less risk through the Internet and defrauding online.”
But face masks could prove problematic. “It does provide opportunity that would be a little bit…