In the Spotlight: Security Committee

Jeffrey Walking, Sr. and John Pietrowitz


Better bank security is one factor why robberies are at the lowest they’ve been in 30 years. FBI bank crime statistics show that in 1984, there were 6,067 robberies nationwide. In 2020, that number is down to 1,500 robberies.

New Jersey Banker reached out to the NJBankers Security Committee Chairs, Jeffrey Walding, Sr., CPP, who is assistant vice president/BSA officer/security, Newfield National Bank, and John Pietrowitz, senior vice president/ security and BSA officer, Columbia Bank, to share some insights on the challenges and rewards for bankers responsible for Security.

How did the pandemic affect security measures, if any? For example, how did you, as the security officer, guide your bank since customers were wearing protective masks making it difficult to see a customer’s face? Did the masks encourage any policy changes?

WALDING: The pandemic affected security measures as we first stopped contact with customers by closing lobbies and only admitting known customers who had appointments. Policies were later put into place for a greeter at the door to identify customers and determine the type of transactions they needed to complete. So, by putting a “traffic cop” at the door, this becomes a good robbery prevention technique, as potential robbers are not going to identify themselves before entering the lobby to commit a robbery.

As circumstances evolved and lobbies became accessible again, in order to welcome anyone coming into a branch masked, staff would ask the customer to remove their mask long enough to be identified. It was clear that a balance was needed between good customer service and the security of our employees.

PIETROWITZ: During the heart of the pandemic, the Bank utilized the drive-up to conduct customer transactions and opened the lobby by appointment only. Protective plexi-glass barriers were installed to separate employees from customers. As a community bank, Columbia Bank prides itself on knowing our customers; and as a result, the Bank experienced very little fraud related to masks being worn. In our experience, the fraud shifted to exploiting customers and obtaining ill-gotten gains through layers of electronic transactions with no bank employee contact.

As noted in the FBIs crime statistics, what do you see as reasons for such a steep decline?

WALDING: The pandemic started around February/March of 2020 and had a direct impact on robberies as movement was restricted, mask mandates was put into place and most financial institutions chose to close lobbies to avoid contact with customer to slow the spread.

PIETROWITZ: Bad actors have evolved from the traditional bank robber to a more sophisticated criminal enriching oneself with not only monetary rewards derived from fraud perpetrated against banks and their customers, but rewards of achievement and fame in the cyber world. The risk and reward for bank robbery pales in comparison to other frauds and scams that can easily net the bad actor 10 to 20 times more money with limited risk of being caught. Hackers can achieve bigger paydays by selling stolen customer identifying information including social security numbers and account numbers.

Are there any relevant crime trends that you see?

WALDING: As for current crime trends, we are noting a lot of customers are being victimized at their homes. For example, they are called, emailed and convinced to take action — participate in some type of fraud, computer repair, purchase on Amazon that they did not make, threats to attack their account and have them move their money to Cryptocurrency, just to name a few.

Deterrents for bank robberies come down to staff training — teaching them situational awareness. Staff need to look up when people enter the branch. They must make an assessment and ask themselves questions like “Do I recognize the person as a customer”; “is this person difficult to identify because they are dressed in a hat and sunglasses and a COVID mask? We tell our staff to risk rate a person. Is this someone I must keep an eye on? Do they look nervous?

We have employees greeting everyone. The lone note passer does not want to be recognized, and this may drive them out of the building.

PIETROWITZ: The presentment of counterfeit and altered checks continue to rise at unprecedented levels. Many cases can be attributed to mail theft, but technology advancements in consumer mobile deposit and business remote deposit capture can be a contributing factor in accounts being compromised. Those individuals and businesses not properly securing and destroying checks create an additional risk to banks.

Another trend we are seeing is the bad actors shifting attention to defrauding customers through impostor scams, romance scams and employment opportunity scams, etc. Customers are tricked into sending large international wire transfers or making large cash withdrawals ultimately giving the funds to the bad actor. Additionally, many customers continue to provide online banking credentials to the bad actors resulting in funds being withdrawn via P2P, wire or ACH. In many cases, the customers are coached by the bad actor to provide logical explanations when questioned by bank employees on the validity of a transaction.

Can you tell us about a security officer’s relationship with law enforcement — both local and national, including departments like the FBI? Are there other crimefighting units that you interact with?

WALDING: A security officer is useless without having a partnership with local or Federal Law Enforcement agencies. We can help them as much as they can help us. We have contact with every local and state police area we have a location. We have contacts and go to professionals within

the FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, Office of Emergency Management both State and Federal and New Jersey State Police.

It is also important to join and be active in different security groups — the South Jersey Security Associates, the Delaware Valley Security Officer Group, the NJBankers Security Committee, cybersecurity Committee, STOC Committee and trade groups or committees like the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS). You also have the countless number of state and local agencies. Intelligence sharing is a big part of what we do to protect our customers and Institutions.

PIETROWITZ: Fortunately, in northern New Jersey, we have the opportunity to develop contacts with various law enforcement agencies through participation or membership in groups such as the NJ Security Association, IRS — CI Roundtable and the NJBanker’s Security Committee. These groups are attended by FBI, IRS, DEA, Homeland Security, Postal Inspectors, local law enforcement and bank security personnel. Developing relationships with law enforcement personnel and other bank security professionals can be the difference in recovering funds for the bank and the bank’s customers. Any delay in the investigation can lead to the money being layered, moved to another bank or withdrawn and ultimately being unrecoverable. Certain agencies like the FBI, who have numerous other responsibilities, will only assist when the dollar amount exceeds a certain threshold but can be a valuable resource for recovering international wire transfers. Having a strong relationship with the different law enforcement agencies is paramount in recovering funds and apprehending the bad actors.

Thank you for your insight, Jeff and John!