BANK HEISTS

Increasing bank heists unmask sophisticated tactics of robbers

Criminals turning to well-calculated heists where no shots are fired but money is stolen.

In Summary

• Use of crude force has been relegated to the back alleys where criminals are likely to get away with a couple of thousands of shillings and mobile phones if they are lucky.

The two suspects arrested over the bank heist and Sh7 million recovered in Kendu Bay and Kisii,
The two suspects arrested over the bank heist and Sh7 million recovered in Kendu Bay and Kisii,
Image: COURTESY

The latest incident where men posing as police officers last week stole Sh72 million, from the Standard Chartered Bank and G4S in Nairobi demonstrates how bank robbers have upped their game to beat the beefed-up security systems.

With alarms, censors, CCTV surveillance and armed policemen stationed round the clock in banking halls, criminals are increasingly finding it difficult to just walk into a bank and order everyone to lie down like it was being done in the 1990s.

As a result, the use of crude force has been relegated to the back alleys where criminals are likely to get away with a couple of thousands of shillings and mobile phones if they are lucky.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Instead, criminals are turning to well-calculated robberies where no shots are fired but money is stolen.

Here's a list of past Kenyan bank heists and how they were executed.

Thieves dig tunnel under KCB Thika, steal Sh50 million

In a heist reminiscent of a Hollywood movie in November 2017, Kenyan robbers spent months tunnelling into the bowels of a bank located opposite a police station and stole the equivalent of half a million dollars.

Police arrested two men and one woman over the robbery but had not recovered the Sh50 million, reported missing by staff at the KCB Thika branch when they showed up to work.

“We suspect the robbers hired one of the shops near the bank (while digging their tunnel),” Willy told the Star.

 
 

The robbers were able to remove the earth during their months-long excavations without arousing suspicion by concealing it in boxes.

 
 
 

The traders described the two young men who had rented the store as “very hardworking” and “introverts”.

Barclays ATM Heist, Sh11.2m stolen

In April this year, Sh11.2 million was stolen from four Barclays Bank ATMs in Nairobi.

The gang targeted ATMs at Kenyatta National Hospital, The Mater Hospital, Mutindwa and Kenya Cinema.

An ATM at Kenyatta National Hospital was emptied of Sh4.3 million, while another at The Mater Hospital was drained of Sh1 million. 

Sh2.84 million was emptied at Barclays Bank ATM at Kenya Cinema Plaza along Moi Avenue, Nairobi.

The Barclays heist was the first major case of ATM jackpotting in Kenya since the crime hit the US last year, the police say.

In ATM jackpotting, the thieves installed malicious software and/or hardware at ATMs that force the machines to spit out huge volumes of cash on demand.

To carry out a jackpotting attack, thieves first must gain physical access to the cash machine.

From there they can use malware or specialised electronics — often a combination of both — to control the operations of the ATM.

Brian Krebs, an American investigative journalist, explains in an online article how criminals have been stealing millions of shillings from banks in the US through ATM jackpotting.

Two policemen, two security officers and a taxi driver were charged with stealing from the Barclays Bank ATMs.

Family Bank Heist in June 2018, Sh20m stolen

Over Sh20 million was stolen from Famly bank in Ruiru in June last year.

The bank released a statement, saying it reported the break-in to relevant authorities and that the robbery is under investigation.

"Family Bank confirms that there was a break-in incident at our Ruiru branch over the weekend of June 14-18, 2018...We wish to inform our customers that our Ruiru branch is fully operational and open for business," it said in a statement.

Ruiru police declined to comment further on the matter.

However, an OB report reveals that a security manager conducting routine checks of the premises discovered there had been a robbery after finding that the alarm system had been tampered with.

The police were alerted, who then rushed to the scene and established that thieves had broken into the bank during the night at an unknown time by cutting through the rooftop.

According to police, the gang took two days to dig the tunnel unnoticed and the discovery was only made Sunday morning by authorities.

Thieves dug tunnel at Kitui bank strongroom in June 2019, steal Sh1.5 million

Robbers on June 17 made away with Sh1.5 million after digging a tunnel to access a bank’s strong room in Kitui.

The incident took place at the Financial Services Association (FSA) bank located in Itoleka, Kitui.

According to police, the gang took two days to dig the tunnel unnoticed until Sunday morning when the watchman on duty noticed the burrow leading to the strong room.

The incident is a replica to what happened in 2017 when thugs dug a 30-meter tunnel and stole Sh50 million from Kenya Commercial Bank in Thika.