Hollywood loves a good heist. Other types of crime are generally frowned upon, but one guy we will always root for is the cool guy in Ray-Bans who hatches a brilliant scheme to break into a vault before retiring to a beach in Tahiti with his supermodel girlfriend. Maybe it appeals to the greedy, anarchistic side of us that admires the outlaw in theory but doesn't actually want to hurt anyone. Maybe it's the Ray-Bans. Whatever the case, I'm here to tell you it's all crap.
I guarded a branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, a popular target in movies like Die Hard With a Vengeance, and I can tell you with a fair degree of certainty that Ray Bannington the Third wouldn't make it to that beach in Tahiti. He wouldn't even make it out the door, because ...
Our first example comes straight from the aforementioned Die Harderer, in which Gruber & Co. attack the Federal Reserve by dressing as the Village People. Simon himself lures a bank official right into his trap just by putting on a suit and head-faking security by saying, "Tell him Mr. Vanderflog is here." Totally real-sounding pseudonym, man -- guess Hans really did get the brains. Over and over, we see people in movies simply dressing up as painters or guards and being led right into the vault.
"I'll let you in, but you don't look like the usual vault plumbers ..."
Stop for a minute and think about that: You have to prove you're you just to deposit a check, right? Why are you letting yourself believe that security at these facilities is so apathetic that they'll let a guy in as long as he kinda looks like he belongs there?
First of all, we'd never let someone in just because they have a uniform. The uniforms go home with the employees, where they can be lost or sold. They're pants. Pants are not a qualification. What we have instead are tightly controlled ID cards that are checked in, checked out, and counted every night. Every store manager has a card that they scan in order to make the pick-up or drop-off, and then they sign it in a specific book. If you lose your ID by accident, it's an automatic termination.
If you "lose" your ID on purpose, it's an automatic incarceration.
From the front of the building to any room with money in it, there are about five mag-lock doors, and no one goes through them without an escort. Even if I personally know you as a fellow guard, if you're not scheduled to work that day, I can't let you in without an escort. If you're the president of the United States, you're not allowed in without an escort. That also means you have your identity verified and you're patted and wanded down. Which is nowhere near as sexy or as magical as it sounds.
Even in emergency situations, this procedure is absolutely unbendable. We had an issue once when an older employee had a heart attack in the vault, and we couldn't let the EMS guys in with their ambulance, so we had to help them get their stretcher into the vault and then walk them out the front door. Which meant we had to pat them down and wand them until they walked funny on the way in, and then again while they were leaving. All while our guy was having a heart attack. It was literally a life or death scenario, and protocol was still protocol. It gets pretty ridiculous, but the thought is, that guy could fake a heart attack, and when we let the ambulance in, half a dozen bank robbers could jump out of it and hit us pretty hard. Hell, that's probably actually been in a movie already. They just didn't show the part where George Clooney got a metal detector up the pee-hole and went straight to jail.
Lots of movie bad guys seem to think the best course of action is to intercept the money in transit. Probably the silliest place this shows up is in Grand Theft Auto V. There's a scene where they pull a garbage truck into the middle of the road, and the armored truck just stops there, and wouldn't you know it, they get caught in an ambush. That would never happen today, precisely because it's such a common idea that they've even based video game scenes off of it.
That's also why we no longer let customers jump through our floating coins.
This sort of thing did happen a lot in the late '90s in Philadelphia -- they would stage a traffic accident, the hopper would get out of the truck to see what was wrong, and a minivan would swing up to the side of the truck opening fire. Now when you see something like that start to go down, you throw the truck into reverse, hit the siren, and don't stop driving until you're safe or the engine block becomes so filled with blood that it hydro-locks. It's actually company policy in that case to just plow right through the offending parties. They specifically tell us, "Go ahead and ram that car full speed; we have 30-ton trucks for a reason."
Virtually every scenario is planned for: There's a button in the truck that sends out an emergency signal to every cop in the area, who will show up with guns drawn, and someone in the truck will always be within arm's reach of that button.
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Seriously, rob the Prius behind the truck instead. The driver will just run.
Alternatively, you can throw a bomb on the back of the truck to blow the doors open, which is another thing they do in Grand Theft Auto V. I don't know much about explosions, but I know those are several-inch-thick steel doors. I can't imagine an explosion powerful enough to blow those doors open without completely obliterating all of the money inside. Even if you somehow had a tank rifle or something and shot both guys through the bulletproof glass, all you did is kill the only two guys who could open the truck.
We're well aware that there is no greater vulnerability than two guys in a huge truck labeled "We have shitloads of money," so there's all kinds of things we do about that. If you work the same route every day, you're supposed to change your route constantly. Take three lefts every now and then to make sure no one is following you. Do your banks in no particular order, don't stop at the same place for lunch every day, don't get gas at the same station, etc. This is because people, generally speaking, like their money, and find that keeping it is a good thing. If you've thought of a way to steal it, odds are the folks protecting it have thought about that too.
In the heat of the moment, when the smoke is thickest and the novelty masks are flying, you'll hear the mastermind scream: "Make sure to grab the non-sequential bills!" He says it with such an air of competence, we never question that he knows what he's talking about. Plus it makes sense: Bills with sequential serial numbers are easier to flag as stolen, right? With the money ... serial ... tracking app?
"It's from the Candy Crush guys, so after buying the daily upgrades we end up losing money."
I don't know how that one got so popular in the movies. True, when money first comes from the mint to the Federal Reserve Bank, the bills are in sequential order. If you're thinking of robbing the Federal Reserve, that may indeed be a legitimate concern. But if you were thinking of robbing the Federal Reserve, odds are you're probably already being zip-tied by the guards after failing the very first checkpoint, so you've got bigger problems to worry about than filing.
If you're talking pretty much any other bank, though, the bills are all over the place. An average bank is going to have money from the gas station down the street, a random restaurant, your mother's G-string, etc. When they send it off, they put them in bricks by denomination, not serial number -- all the 20s together, all the 10s together, etc.
Old, worn bills try to fit in with those in the 20s, but they're not fooling anyone.
No one at the bank is sitting around surrounded by $40,000 painstakingly stacking the bills in order of serial number, and if they are, that's a crazy person who will be shortly escorted off the premises.