Tuesday, June 7, 2005

To Quote John Dillinger . . .

“ . . . I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”


A pretty straight-forward approach back in the thirties, when John was hustling around the mid-west.  But this is a new century marked with the indelible print of high-tech and besides, stepping in to a bank lobby with a gun in your hand is messy.  Things go awry and people could get hurt, including yourself.


The modern and up-to-date 21st century gunslinger pays off someone at FedEx or UPS or bribes a baggage-handler to get the map of where the money is.  A treasure hunt of sorts, except ‘thirty paces due south of the old oak’ is now ‘the small box from Citigroup in their regular Tuesday shipment.’  Dillinger’s fictional grandson doesn’t need to hope there’s some cash in the till when he tells everyone to hit the floor, he’s got the keys to 1.2 million customers’ account information in that innocuous little cardboard box. He doesn't even have to show up personally, robbing the bank can now be done from Russia or Bangledesh, India or a swank apartment on 5th Avenue.


The dominoes keep on falling with a new revelation every week and the question isn’t whether there are unreported computer tapes going astray, the question is whether sensitive information isn’t being stolen from within those very institutions that purport to guard your finances.


How does one know the extent of the Dillinger effect?


The short answer is that we don’t and likely never will.  The consequences of stolen access are as wide as the imagination and as deep as our individual net worth.  Having money stolen directly from our bank accounts is the smallest and probably least likely of the exposures, which might include


  • Cars, planes, boats, toasters and vacation homes bought in our names and quickly sold off for whatever available cash they bring. 

  • Stocks, bonds and other easily transferred financial instruments bought with credit cards.

  • Social Security numbers that can be used for a forged documentation history in our names (with anyone’s photo) that can be used to acquire passports.

  • Spending sprees on our credit cards.

All of which will no doubt bring a blizzard of legislation from our erstwhile representatives in state and national government.  Unfortunately, it will be enacted for the most part to protect not the exposed citizen but the exposer financial institution or credit appraiser.  Those same guys who hire an armored car with guns-drawn guards to pick up the days take at the teller-windows, wave off your entire credit history and sensitive documentation that accesses your assets to a bored, underpaid courier without so much as a signature.


My unlobbied, unfunded and powerless suggestion to Congress is merely to make institutions financially responsible for any losses that may arise out of their carelessness.  That solution would be easy as well as a workable curative for irresponsibility.


It could be called The Dillinger Solution.