116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Robbed twice in 10 months, one local bank has turned to GPS technology to prevent holdups.
Linn County State Bank, which has branches in Marion and Coggon, started using credit-card sized devices in its bundles of money last week. Robbers who take one of the devices with their loot can be tracked by police, as was the case in Chicago-area heist in December.
Bank President and CEO Bill Ajram said the technology has been on the market for a while, but has recently become more cost-effective. He is convinced the devices will reduce the amount of bank robberies.
“There is no doubt,” Ajram said. “Banks will no longer be the simple prey.”
Linn County State Bank appears to be the first bank in the state to use the currency-tracking devices. Ajram said at least a couple other banks in the Cedar Rapids area are considering the move.
Spokespersons for the Iowa Bankers Association and the Iowa League of Credit Unions said they were unaware of any financial institution in the state currently using GPS technology to track money. They expressed little doubt that currency trackers will become popular security options, if affordable.
“Banks who are helping customers always need to stay at the forefront of technology, because that's what customers want,” said Ben Hildebrandt, a spokesman for the bankers association.
The devices helped police quickly nab three men who took about $9,000 in cash from a bank in the Chicago suburb of Calumet City on Dec. 30, according to the Chicago Tribune. All of the money was recovered in about an hour, and the three suspects were arrested.
Ajram would not reveal which manufacturer his bank is working with, but 3SI Security Systems of Exton, Pa. sells the currency trackers. According to the company's Web site, its product has helped recover more than $3.1 million in stolen cash, including $25,000 stolen by a serial bank robber in Omaha on Dec. 24.
Representatives for 3SI declined to talk about its product and would not say how widespread the technology has become, citing concerns that any information could be used by criminals. But according a published report by Geotrax Protection, which was acquired by 3SI in 2008, some of the devices can alert authorities by e-mail or text message if they are moved out of a certain range. The devices broadcast GPS, cell phone and radio frequency signals that police can monitor using a Web browser.
“It's slick,” Ajram said.
FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Mike Kitsmiller said he first knew of the currency trackers about 10 years ago when he worked in Memphis, but the cost made it difficult for banks to take advantage of the technology. He said all types of security equipment are helpful when solving bank robberies.
“Anything they can do to help us solve a robbery, I'm all for it,” Kitsmiller said.
Linn County State Bank in Marion was robbed March 10, 2009 and again on Dec. 30, 2009. Two men have been charged in the first holdup, but no arrests have been made in the second.
Ajram said the tracking devices are among multiple security upgrades at the bank. A system was installed last week to control access to the front door. Anyone that staff does not recognize will need to identify themselves to get inside.
Dye packs, bait bills and security cameras are still used throughout the industry, but Ajram is sold on the newest technology.
“I think this system will replace dye packs, because the success ratio is going to be a lot greater,” Ajram said.