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Citizens Police Academy-week 6: robbery & fraud

He got robbed! Oh wait, maybe just burgled. Do you know the difference? Burglary involves illegal entry, but not use of force or a threat against someone. Robbery is when force, threat, or intimidation is used, and includes extortion. Use of a firearm while committing a felony includes an additional charge and additional jail time.

In Fairfax County, the Robbery Squad investigates incidents involving firearms, injury, knives, or a commercial setting. Patrol officers handle the other cases. Here’s what I found most interesting about the different types of robbery cases.

  • Home invasion: this is basically abduction in your own house. Someone enters your home and restrains you (generally at gun- or knifepoint).
    • Ethnic groups who frequently keep large amounts of money in the home—due to lack of trust in banks or government, or for other cultural reasons–frequently fall prey to home invasion, usually by criminals within their community.
    • The detective who spoke to us has seen a rise in poker game robberies. Guys advertise on Facebook or Twitter that it’s poker night. Someone shows up asking to buy-in, and instead holds them up.
    • In the detective’s experience, home invasion victims always have some kind of connection to the robber, even if tenuous.
    • Some home invaders are looking for drugs instead of money (e.g. home of drug dealer, or home of someone with a prescribed narcotic that’s valuable on the street).
  • Extortion: obtaining something (usually money) through force or threats.
    • Often the criminal threatens to expose the victim’s “embarrassing habits/deeds” to the world. In the detective’s experience, about 50% of the victims actually did what the criminal threatened to expose. So, be careful the company you keep.
    • Extortion frequently goes unreported.
  • Bank robbery
    • At least in my county, bank robbery is on the decline.
    • According to the detective, in almost every case, the robber wants the money to pay for drugs. He could only think of two cases in 10 years on the squad where the robber just wanted the money, and one case where the guy did it for the thrill.
    • The average “take” in a teller-only robbery is about $3500.
    • Only about 10% of bank robberies are vault hits, but he couldn’t reveal the take on those, or on armored car robberies.
    • Generally, in the detective’s experience, homicides/shootings during a bank robbery are due to accidental trigger pull, rather than specific intent to harm.
    • Robbers often choose banks without glass at the teller counter because it’s easier to go over the counter to keep an eye on the teller.

In addition to the Robbery Squad, we had a visit from a fraud investigator. I learned a lot. Hopefully you already shred bank and utility statements and such before you recycle them, but this detective has a lot more recommendations.

  • Send your mail from a secure mailbox or from work, rather than your accessible mailbox. He calls the outgoing mail flag the “steal me” flag. Thieves will take your mail right out of your curbside box, hoping to find a check. They won’t “wash” the check, they’ll just take the bank account and routing numbers and use them to pay for things online using an ACH (automated clearing house) transaction.
  • Consider a PO box to receive mail. Fraudsters will collect your mail daily, looking for pre-approved credit applications. When the card comes, they’ll get it from your box. Sometimes they change the address for the new card.
    • But how do they activate the card, you ask? Well, there’s a site called spoofcard . com that allows them to set up caller ID to look like it’s coming from your phone number. It even let’s them change the gender of their voice. Scared yet?
    • Once they have the new account, they’ll change the mailing address, and even ask for a card to be issued in another person’s name. The companies are happy to comply.
  • Use online banking to avoid paper statements, and to check your transactions regularly so you can spot fraud early.
    • You have 60 days from the receipt of a statement to dispute a charge/withdrawal.
    • You must notify the banking institution within two days of discovering a fraudulent charge.
  • Don’t leave your wallet in the car at the gym, church, rec center, school, or park. Thieves troll these places, knowing people are likely to leave their wallet/purse in the console or glovebox.
  • I’ve said it before: never, ever, ever, ever wire money!!!!! If someone asks you to wire money, it’s probably fraud.
  • Beware the car buyer who pays with a certified check. And if it’s already made out and it’s for too much money, don’t give them any cash back! Wait until a weekday and go with them to the bank to get a new certified check. If they won’t do it, it’s probably a scam/bad check.
  • Cover the keypad when entering your PIN at the ATM. Always. Even if no one is around. This will protect you if the ATM has been compromised by ATM “skimmers”. The camera won’t catch the PIN and they won’t be able to use your card number to withdraw money. I was mortified to find out that several bank branches near my home are hit regularly by skimmers.
  • PayPal is risky unless working with reputable merchants. Same with any online transaction.
  • No legitimate bank or merchant will ever ask for more than the last four digits of your account or SSN, and should not ask for your PIN.
  • Don’t hang your purse over the back of your chair. Popular places for theft (usually of just one or two credit cards, rather than cash or your whole wallet) are busy restaurants like Outback and La Madeleine, old (non-stadium style) movie theaters, and any crowded place.
  • On a credit card, the only thing that matters is the magnetic stripe. Most merchants do not check to see if the number/name on the card matches what comes up when they swipe it (Lowe’s is a notable exception).
    • Thieves can use a “wedge”, a small, portable card reader to capture your card data. Maybe via that waiter who just walked away with your card. The wedge holds 4-500 cards' worth of data.
    • The thieves transfer that info to blank cards, or real credit cards, and use them to buy whatever they want.
  • Check your credit report every few months. You get one per bureau per year. Considering getting one from a different credit bureau every four months to catch fraudulent use of your identity before it gets out of hand. For free reports go to

Be safe!

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Wow. There’s a ton of stuff in here that I didn’t know. I happen to have one of those secure mailboxes, but I never would have thought twice about putting outgoing mail in the regular sort. To me, that’s the most surprising.

    • Reply

      Yeah, I didn’t give much thought to outgoing mail much either, except when sending Netflix DVDs. I love how he called it the “steal me” flag. 😉

      • Reply

        I was actually a little sad when we bought our house down here, because they don’t have mailboxes. There’s a big box at the end of the block with locked cells for each house on the block. Mailboxes are so charming, that I wanted one. But this makes me happier about it. (Not that I was wasting time worrying about it…)

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