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SEATTLE — FBI agents are crediting two Seattle bank branches’ customer service with helping prevent a pair of robberies.
When employees at a First Mutual Bank branch recognized a suspicious-looking man on Tuesday as the individual featured as a bank robbery suspect on an FBI flier, one employee approached the man, greeted him warmly and offered to help him at a desk, FBI Special Agent Larry Carr said.
The man quickly left.
First Mutual employees then called a nearby U.S. Bank branch to alert employees there that the man was in the area. A few minutes later, a man matching the suspect’s description walked in to the U.S. Bank branch. Employees there also used friendly customer service and the man left shortly thereafter — empty-handed.
Carr said the employees were using a robbery-prevention technique that quietly and quickly diverts would-be robbers from getting to the teller counter.
“If a person is a legitimate customer, they will experience superior service,” Carr told The Seattle Times. “If their intention, however, is to rob the bank, they will experience paranoia, anxiety and a desire to escape.”
FBI spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs said the man who walked away from the two banks in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood on Tuesday is suspected of robbing a Washington Mutual branch on Wednesday in the Bellevue area.
Burroughs said the FBI calls him the “Bad News Bandit” because he carries a newspaper with him, opening it to reveal a demand note.
Carr, who helped develop the techniques and train bank employees, said about 50 bank branches have participated in the training and bank robberies in the area have plummeted.
“It’s changing the mind-set,” Carr said. “What I was seeing were situations in which employees knew the minute someone walked in the door that they were going to be robbed. But their mind-set was, ‘All we can do is wait.’ Now we’re empowering them to take control of the environment.”
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