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MADISON, Wis. – Despite the impression left sometimes by the trade press headlines, CUNA Mutual reports that fewer credit unions were robbed in 2002 than in 2001. Data on robberies committed in 2003 will not be available until later in the year. The insurance company, based in Madison, Wisconsin, asserts that it insures 94% of credit unions across the U.S., and that enables its robbery data to provide a pretty good barometer of the state of robbery from the nation’s credit unions, according to Sydney Lindner, spokeswoman for the insurer. But Lindner was careful to point out that CUNA Mutual’s data would not include robberies from credit unions that are not its policyholders, or from robberies that are not necessarily reported for insurance purposes. According to CUNA Mutual’s data, robberies at credit unions began moving up in the year 2000, hit a peak in 2001 and fell back somewhat in 2002, though not to pre-2000 levels. Lindner also report that there aren’t any real innovations in robberies, such as gang networks or new ways of pulling them off. The majority of robberies are still committed by one or two people with a weapon or a claim of a weapon, she said. When interviewed about their crimes later, most robbers do not recognize the type of institution they have robbed, Lindner added. “They don’t know whether they hit a bank or a credit union,” she said. That lack of recognition may be key to understanding why credit union robberies have surged in the early part of the decade when compared to the last part of the last decade, she explained. As long as credit unions were more seen as part of their sponsors’ organizations, when in many cases they had their offices actually inside the plant or compound maintained by the sponsor, it was harder for thieves to recognize them as a potential source of cash. That has changed as greater numbers of credit unions have opted for broader charters and for opening storefront operations. “When credit unions were in the center of offices and work buildings, robbers did not recognize them as financial institutions,” Lindner said. “Now they do.” Lindner added that the insurer does not generally keep statistics by state and that robberies of credit unions tend to be spread out among financial institutions across the country. Where there are more credit unions as a percentage of the financial institutions available, she explained, there are more credit union robberies. She added that CUNA Mutual invests significant resources in helping credit unions manage their risk of robbery and deal with a robbery’s effects after it has happened. The insurer maintains a loss-prevention library on its Web site, with information resources for credit unions. It also conducts robbery prevention training, including on-site security analysis and recommendations to credit unions. CUNA Mutual also serves as a resource liaison to help credit unions deal with traumatic events, Lindner said. Significantly, even though credit unions are facing a wider variety of organized theft than ever before, the newer types of theft have not been counted as robbery because they do not meet the definition of robbery. By definition a robbery has to include the robbers using force or threat of force against credit union employees, Lindner explained. Attacks against ATMs, including the newer wave of more technologically sophisticated schemes, are more fraud than robbery, she explained. The insurer has begun to work with its members to alert them to different techniques the industry is using to prevent ATM fraud. Lindner could not say whether the definition of robbery is CUNA Mutual’s or an industry standard. [email protected]

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