Bank Robberies Spiking This Year In Philly's Suburbs - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Bank Robberies Spiking This Year In Philly's Suburbs

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PHILADELPHIA -

Bank heists are on the upswing in parts of our region. In fact, the FBI is issuing a warning to local police about how to respond to bank robberies this holiday season.

FOX 29's Jeff Cole has advice from the feds on how you can reduce your risk.

They're in an out in minutes as customers stand by and watch helplessly. Bank employees carefully meet their demands.

The number of bank robberies in some of Philadelphia's suburbs is spiking this year.

Supervisory Special Agent Joe Bushner, who oversees the FBI's Fort Washington office, covering Bucks and Montgomery counties, said, "Could be the economy or it could just be, if you get a few serial bank robbers, that'll spike your numbers alone."

And these crooks are bold.

Take a look at what played out in early November at a Wells Fargo in East Pikeland Township. Three men in ski masks burst in -- jump up on the counter -- and point their guns in the faces of employees.

"Two of them were showing handguns, they brought a duffel bag in with them, told everybody 'Get down,'" said East Pikeland police Detective Ben Martin.

It all went down in just three minutes.

"They want to get in, they want to get their money, and they want to get out," Bushner said.

A week earlier, three men with the same M.O. hit a Wells Fargo in Lower Merion. The crooks stormed in, forcing customers to dive for cover. They got cash from three tellers, then took everyone's cell phones on the way out.

The dramatic way these crimes unfold has customers shaken.

We wanted to know from him if banks can do more to help protect people? What about protections like more security guards or greeters? How about a vestibule you get buzzed in through, like a jewelry store?

"We're in no position to tell the banks, you know, how they should hire their security personnel," Bushner said, though he added, "a show of security is always a deterrent."

Should more banks have bulletproof glass?

"Unless you're in a very high-crime area, where you can get away with having that and the public wouldn't think twice about it," Bushner said, "that would probably throw your clientele off, where 'Why don't I go across the street and talk to the person who doesn't sit behind glass.'"

So, if keeping an open, inviting atmosphere means fewer in-your-face security measures, what can a customer do if they get caught up in the chaos?

"Be compliant, and if the person says anything, directs anything your way, do it. Don't try to be a hero," Bushner said.

"You don't see a lot of violent jobs where weapons are being fired, and that's a fortunate thing," Bushner said.

Of course, there are the exceptions, like what happened at a TD Bank in Willow Grove on a Saturday morning. An employee tries to lock out an armed man following him into the bank. But the man shot the glass out and dragged the worker to the back of the bank.

Does that make weekends a bad time to bank? Bushner says, in general, no day or time is any busier for bank robbers.

"Years ago, use to have laws where banks weren't open on Sundays, banks would have maybe their one late night a week. And now, we get hit up all times," Bushner said.

But they may have a busy season.

"We often, may even joke about like on Black Friday – it's kind of rare to have a quiet Black Friday. Usually, there's something somewhere. That, I think, is tied into holidays, needing some money, desperation."

And agent Bushner says the public can't underestimate how helpful they can be in solving these crimes.

If you're in a robbery, "any little thing they can pick up on, any shoes, clothing … If you ever see someone go away, the license plate is huge."

Or just watch the surveillance pictures at home.

"Even if they think, 'Hey, it's probably not him,' or, 'I use to work with that guy,' give us a call," Bushner said. "You know, we'll just take a look at them. If it's not them, you're not getting anyone in trouble. You're just giving us a lead."

Cole reported that we reached out to local banks. All were hesitant to share specifics of their security measures.

But the Pennsylvania Bankers Association did issue FOX 29 a statement, writing banks regularly schedule ongoing training for all front-line and branch staff. Banks always balance convenience and security when designing branches. And banks continue to search for new ways to prevent robberies. But their best strategy is to make sure employees are trained and security systems are in place and working properly.

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