Disguises, Bomb Threats, and Gasoline: Recent Check Cashing Robbery Attempts in NYC

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U.S. Attorneys Office-Eastern District of New York
The scene of the 2012 Valentine's Day Heist.
Robbing a check cashing outlet is much less straightforward than robbing a bank. For a bank heist, a note demanding money is all a thief needs; the tellers are trained to hand it over. Banks have other tools - like exploding dye-packs and GPS trackers hidden in cash bundles - to foil the bank robbers on the back end.

"The bank's primary objective is to protect the safety and security of its employees and customers by reducing the likelihood of violence," the Department of Justice states in its bank robbery guide for local police departments. "Consequently, the risk that a robber will encounter resistance is extremely low."

Check-cashing outlets, however, try to prevent robberies on the front-end: bullet-proof glass windows and locked double-doors separate the money and employees from the lobby. A robber can't just walk in and demand the cash. He or she must figure out how to get into the fortress-like room known as "the cage." This leads to more, creative robbery strategies.

In our latest feature story, for instance, three black men wore masks so realistic that the police initially searched for three white suspects. They subtly threatened the teller by showing her a photograph of her house, indicating that they knew where she lived. They stole more than $200,000 in three minutes.

Here are some other recent examples:

See also this week's feature story: Who Were Those Masked Men, Anyway?

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On July 22, 2011, a man in an armored truck guard uniform arrived at Lorenzo's Enterprises in Queens and told the tellers he was there to pick up the money. They gave him around $15,000 in cash and he left. A few hours later, the Daily News reported, another man wearing that same uniform walked in and told the tellers he was there to pick up the money. It was then that they realized the first man was an impostor.

On November 10, 2011, two men approached an armored car driver delivering money to David's Check Cashing Center in the Bronx. One of the men had a gun. They told him to give them the money. He tried to fight them off. One of the bandits pepper-sprayed him. The men snatched the bag of cash and ran.

The driver grabbed his gun and fired at them. One bullet passed through an MTA bus door, according to NY1. The New York Times reported that one of the robbers may have been shot.

They escaped with about $100,000.

On December 24, 2012, a man entered a Pay-O-Matic in Harlem with a cup full of gasoline in his hand. He splashed the gasoline on the teller's window. He then pulled out a lighter and demanded money. The teller opened the door to the locked back area, and the man filled a duffle bag with cash from the counter, according to the Daily News.

On August 22, 2013, a man knocked on the back door of an armored truck parked near a Pay-O-Matic in Brooklyn. The driver later told investigators that he assumed it was his partner knocking, so he unlocked the door. But a man with a gun, and a scarf wrapped around his face, came in. He told the driver to drive.

After a couple of miles, the truck stopped and the robber left with a bag packed with up to $500,000 cash.

Police suspected an inside job, the New York Times reported.

On February 25, 2014, two men walked into a Pay-O-Matic Check-Cashing in Hamilton Heights and told the teller they had a bomb. They said they would detonate the bomb if the teller did not let them into the safe, the Daily News reported.The men did not show her any explosive device, but they did wear backpacks.

The teller hit the panic button. A loud alarm sounded and the men ran off.

Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha





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