Clay Tumey is a hardened criminal. He’s robbed numerous banks and perfected his craft so well that he never got caught. In fact, the only reason he ever went to prison was because five months after his final robbery he decided to turn himself in.
After three years paying his debts to society and using his time in prison to change his trajectory in life, Tumey has decided to tell his unique story to the world. The Blue Chip Store is his book that tells his story of crime, prison, and second chances.
To promote this book project, Tumey took to Reddit’s popular Ask Me Anything forum to field questions regarding his criminal past. He was straightforward, giving many insights into the process of actually robbing a bank.
And to plainly state this now: this article is in no way encouraging anyone to rob a bank. That is a dangerous, criminal act and can often turn violent. People can die during bank robberies, so read all the following ‘tips’ as the story of a man who has realized how wrong the decisions that he made earlier in his life were. Don’t rob banks.
The following 10 tips highlight not only some of the methods regarding how Clay Tumey unlawfully took money from banks, but some also show the decisions he’s made since giving up that life.
10. Do Your Homework
Like any endeavor, one must not hastily rush into something that has such a high risk. Over the course of two years in the mid-2000s, Clay Tumey fine-tuned his skills in what he called the “art of bank robbery.” The internet would prove to be an invaluable resource.
“I researched for about five or six months prior to my first one. I studied mostly the things that people did to get caught, and I just tried to plan around those things. It’s hard to know how people get away since those details rarely make it to the news, but studying how people get caught was incredibly helpful in knowing what to avoid.”
All that studying paid off, because the amount of planning was drastically reduced in every subsequent robbery. Other than making sure his parking situation was favorable he realized that he didn’t need to worry about scoping out the bank locations. Bank heist knowledge is apparently learned by experience.
9. There Are No Support Groups
Clay Tumey did not tell anyone in the world that he was robbing banks while he was doing it. This turned out to be one of the keys to him never getting caught. No one can rat him out if literally no one knows what he’s doing.
“I never told anyone what I was doing. One of the main things I learned from research was that an overwhelming number of people are caught because they didn’t do it solo. So I never let anyone (not even my wife or best friend) know what I was doing.”
And to reiterate the circumstance of his prison stay: he turned himself in. If he had chosen to keep his criminal activity to himself he might not have ever done any time.
8. Don’t Start A Fight You Can’t Win
Clay Tumey never had to watch a situation turn violent, despite the obvious potential. Additionally, kindness to the actual bank employees was a tactic worth utilizing.
“I never felt guilty because I didn’t attacked or assaulted anyone. Under the circumstances, I was as nice as I could possibly be to the bank employees because I did feel a little sympathy for them.”
Tumey kept in control during his thefts and never saw fists fly or shots fire, but would he have engaged in a fight if the opportunity had arisen?
“That depends on the situation. If it was just some random guy trying to be a hero, I would have probably gone to any extreme necessary to get away because that’s a challenge. On the other hand, if it was a cop or a security guard of some sort, I would have probably let them win. Probably.”
This is tough talk from Clay in hindsight. Thankfully, he never experienced any altercations.
7. Expect Complications
When the crime of bank robbery is happening there is always the chance that things might not go smoothly. Clay Tumey came the closest to getting caught that he ever would be during his last bank robbery.
“The teller freaked out as soon as I turned to leave the bank. She started screaming “lock the doors, lock the doors” but I ignored it and just kept walking like nothing was happening. I got out before the doors were locked, but a guy walking into the bank seconds later already found them locked. He was p***ed, of course, because it wasn’t closing time, and he thought he had gotten there too late. He obviously didn’t realize the guy who had just walked out of the bank and past him had just robbed the bank.”
Tumey was a long-seasoned robber by this point and knew to remain calm walking past the irate customer. Had he acted sketchy he might have blown his cover.
6. Accept Who You Are
When a Reddit user tried to probe into whatever morality Clay Tumey possibly used to justify his actions, he was actually pretty straightforward in explaining that he knew what he was doing was wrong.
“I don’t believe there is such a thing as legal stealing. You either steal or you don’t.”
That seems pretty black and white, but his moral compass does seem less finite the more he expounded.
“As for me, I think morality is very subjective. I wouldn’t steal from an individual person because I’m not comfortable with that. The banks, however, consider this kind of theft an acceptable loss, so that was okay with me being part of the loss that they consider acceptable.”
Tumey knew the system that the banks operated under and considered his actions okay. His reasoning was founded in his belief in how those who had the most man controlled it.
“Part of my process did begin with how poorly I thought rich people handled their money. I’d always thought, “If I was that rich, I could change the world instead of just piling up cash.” I don’t use that to make bank robbery “okay” but that’s what made it okay for me at the time.”
5. Act Natural
The morality of Clay Tumey’s actions are important, but the real question is just how did he do what he did so many times and never get caught? It turns out that his fool-proof methods were incredibly simple and non-grandiose.
“Walked in the bank and waited in line like a regular customer. Whichever teller was available to help me is the one I robbed. I simply walked up to them when it was my turn to be helped, and I told them — usually via handwritten instructions on an envelope — to give me their $50s and $100s.”
His casual and non-threatening approach turned out to be very lucrative for him. No one heist would be a crime of the century but each one did give him a decent chunk of change.
“In their top drawer, it was usually less than $10k. I probably averaged around $5k per bank. But it was pretty low risk that way, so that was cool with me.”
4. Understand The System
Clay Tumey realized that he wasn’t putting too big of a target on his back because he understood what banks consider an acceptable loss. The tellers would almost always adhere to his demands so he could usually be cordial in the process.
“No threat. I just told them what I wanted, and they complied. This is how it works in America because the amount of money a bank gives up ($5-$7k on average) per bank robbery is infinitely less than the amount of business they’d lose if s*** got wild in a bank full of customers.”
“I strapped a hammer to my leg under my pants just below my knee in case I needed to break out of a locked door or something, but I never used a gun or anything like that.”
Bank tellers are trained to not combat robbers as a way to minimize any potential threat to everyone’s physical safety.
“They just want to give you what you want and for you to get the h*ll out of their bank.”
There’s nothing honorable about robbing a bank but Tumey knew how things operated to be very successful at it.
What You Should Know Before Robbing a Bank By Jason Koebler
If you’re going to start taking after Bonnie and Clyde, there are some things you can do to up your take, according to an analysis of British and American bank robberies by researchers at England’s Universities of Sussex and Surrey, published in Significance, the journal of the United Kingdom’s Royal Statistical Society.
Pick a Target—In 2006, the average bank robbery netted about $4,330, compared to an average of $1,589 for all commercial robberies. Avoid convenience stores—the average take there is just $769.
Better yet, go to England, where the average bank robbery nets the U.S. equivalent of $31,500. Don’t worry about which bank you target—the study found that branch size and whether the bank was in an urban or rural setting had no impact on average amount stolen. However, banks with fast-rising security screens that block off tellers from would-be-bank-robbers seem to help,according to the study. They severely reduce the likelihood of a large windfall.
But with most robbers taking a mere pittance and bank robberies being a relatively rare crime (there are more than 6,000 commercial banks in the United States and thousands more credit unions), it’s barely worth it for banks to invest in the screens, which cost a couple thousand per teller window to install.
The monetary losses of bank robberies are “generally not what most concerns the banks,” according to the Significance study. “The psychological costs borne by staff, and by clients who happen to be in a bank at the time, are not small.”
Brandish a gun—In England, bank robbers who threatened employees and customers with a gun stole, on average, about $16,000 more than robbers who were unarmed. Of course, showing off a gun raises the risks as well—armed robbery almost always comes with a minimum jail sentence and makes things more dangerous.
According to the FBI, in 2010, 16 people were killed during bank robberies—13 of them were the perpetrator. Of the 5,500 American bank robberies in 2010 only 1,445—about a quarter—involved a gun. Most commonly, perpetrators used a demand note or the threat of a weapon, without actually showing one.
Use a team—According to the study, for each additional person involved in a bank robbery, the criminals can expect to add about $14,000 to their take. That might result in a lower per-person haul, but the researchers say using a larger gang has other advantages.
“It is advantageous to divide tasks—monitoring the bank lobby, accompanying staff to vaults to ensure maximum takings, driving the getaway car and so on,” they write. “In short, it may be more professional, and the larger returns may reflect that.”
Lawyer up—In the United Kingdom, about 20 percent of would-be bank robbers get caught and go to jail. According to the FBI, the cash stolen in bank robberies was recovered in about 22 percent of successful robberies in 2010. If you make a habit of it, by the fourth bank robbery, you’re more likely to be in jail than walking the streets.
3. Believe In The System
When asked if this former bank robber still personally uses banks, Clay Tumey admitted that he is currently a user of the services of Bank of Texas.
“And they know about my criminal history because I went to high school with one of the girls that works at my bank. I keep a minimal amount of money in the bank for obvious reasons — usually less than a thousand bucks or so. I actually think my account is pretty close to zero for now.”
It is odd that any bank would do business with a former bank robber but it does seem like Tumey is now rehabilitated. It sounds like his bank is in the business of turning the other cheek.
2. Fall In Love With Snail Mail
Like many people who break the law, Clay Tumey was sentenced to prison. He spent three years behind bars and had to be separated from virtually all outside contact.
“It was like dying, except without the funeral. I was removed from everyone else’s life just as much as they were removed from mine. Mail because the only way I connected with my family and friends.”
If it wasn’t for the old-fashioned letter in an envelope the only human interactions he would have experienced would have been inside the actual prison. Despite the entombing state of being incarcerated, Tumey used his time to make a lasting change.
“Prison is lonely and depressing, but it’s also a great place to really work on yourself if that’s what you want to do. Most men and women waste that opportunity.”
1. Make Money Off Of Stealing Money
Clay Tumey robbed many banks, turned himself in, and then went to prison. While that could have been the end of him, hardening him into a life of even more crime, his story actually turns to brighter chapter. He’s now writing a book.
“It’s about my entire life, but the bank stuff is a large part of it.”
Tumey had chosen a wild path of thievery that might have been hard to turn back from. He was good at his crime and could have done it for quite a long time, possibly forever, before authorities put a stop to him.
Midway through a Kickstarter campaign to fund this literary projects, he’s well on his way to being fully funded. Who knows, he might even make more money with this new career path of his. As evidenced by his short time on Reddit, he’s very enthralling.
“Facebook.com/BlueChipStore if you’re interested….Rumor has it I can write.”
How to Rob a Bank and Get Away With It
When $20,000 disappeared from a small community bank near Birmingham, Ala., administrators knew they didn’t have to look far for a suspect.
It was an inside job. It almost always is.
Bank employees led investigators to a suspect, a woman identified only as “Sally,” who had recently thrown a wedding that cost more than her salary, was married to a drug dealer who had many run-ins with the law, and had bad credit and a criminal history, according to Alton Sizemore Jr., the former FBI agent who investigated the case.
She even failed a polygraph “with flying colors,” he said.
Sally was emboldened by the lack of bank controls and confident that her theft was too insignificant to keep the feds around for long.
“She was not the least bit intimidated by two Feds and proved the point by stealing another $20,000 the second day we were there,” Sizemore said.
Investigators could not gather enough evidence for a sum they considered small, so within days, the FBI gave up.
“Short of a miracle, this case was going to be a bust,” Sizemore said.
The case is typical for how law enforcement agencies deal with internal bank theft, showing little interest in cases involving less than $100,000. The crimes cost banks millions of dollars a year in losses, often paid for by banks and their consumers.
The Best Way to Rob a Bank
“Committing fraud within a bank is much safer than robbing a bank. You don’t have to worry about getting shot, you don’t have a gun, and you’re not going to be thrown in jail for commission of a crime with a weapon,” Sizemore said.
Banks report any incidences of suspected fraud to FinCEN, the government-run Financial Crime Enforcement Network. Each year from 2001 to 2010, an average of 6,460 reports of suspected fraud are sent from banks to FinCEN.
In 2011, there were more than 5,500 reports of suspected embezzlement at banks. Of those cases, approximately 580 were investigated, and of those investigations, 429 cases, or 8 percent, ended with convictions, according to FBI data.
In other words, employees had a 92 percent chance of robbing a bank and getting away with it that year.
“I can tell you everyday there are (reports) coming in with a low dollar range that never get looked at, never get off the ground,” said Keith Slotter, an FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Diego Division. “If you have a fraud in there for $5,000 and with a quick check, you see the main suspect is not suspected of doing anything else, has no record, you don’t do it.”
In a survey by financial services research and consulting firm Aite Group last year, on average banks said internal fraud represents 4 percent of their total fraud losses. Conservative estimates for check, debit, and credit card fraud for U.S. institutions place that figure over $6 to $8 billion, meaning internal fraud is likely between $240 million and $300 million per year.
That’s a low estimate, according to Julie McNelley, research director for Aite Group. McNelley believes that internal fraud can represent as much as 10 percent of the total fraud losses in financial institutions.
“It’s very hard to detect and in some cases it is not well tracked,” she said.
FBI agents and fraud analysts say law enforcement does not have the resources to prosecute what they consider “small time” thefts.
Many FBI field offices and U.S. judicial districts consider cases of $100,000 or less to be generally unworthy of prosecution, according to Sizemore and Slotter.
“If a bank can determine that an employee defrauded them out of $12,000, and they terminated him or her, a case of that dollar amount is not going to rise to the threshold of prosecution guidelines in any federal jurisdiction,” Slotter said.
Thousands of internal thefts of amounts up to $100,000 go unprosecuted each year, and many thefts of more than $100,000 are prosecuted without convictions.
“We get thousands of Suspicious Activity Reports on a daily basis, go through every single one and make a determination (whether to investigate),” Slotter said.
The decision whether to investigate is often determined by the prosecutive guidelines set by the U.S. Attorneys in each district, said Darrell Foxworth, special agent at the FBI. Each district has the ability to focus its resources on the crimes most important to that area, he said.
If a district’s U.S. attorney does not want to spend time prosecuting a $20,000 theft, the FBI won’t investigate it, he said.
If the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office decide not to prosecute a case, the Secret Service, the district attorney or local police can choose to investigate, but they often have even fewer investigators than the FBI, Sizemore said.
“We don’t have the resources to prosecute every $5,000 or $10,000 fraud,” Slotter said.
Another reason for the lack of prosecutions and convictions is the fact that many banks are unwilling to report internal thefts to authorities, according to fraud analysts.
McNelley said banks make a calculated decision whether to report internal theft cases.
“Banks build their reputations on trust,” she said.
As banks make the decision to prosecute cases, they calculate if they have sufficient proof and if the incident is significant in magnitude to incur a risk to their reputation associated with having it publicly known, she said.
Some banks employ internal investigators, according to Douglas Johnson, vice president of risk management policy at the American Bankers Association.
Ultimately, the banks’ bottom line and bank customers are affected. As products are priced, the cost of fraud or internal theft factors into a bank’s pricing methodology, so to some extent the cost is passed on to consumers.
“So really everyone is impacted by this crime,” McNelley said.
Johnson noted that at most banks, there are capital reserves in place to account for losses that might occur throughout the year from theft or other financial crimes. Typically, the bank is able to replace the money without passing the cost onto the consumer, he said.
Fraud analysts and FBI investigators say that banks can cut down on internal theft by putting in place better controls.
“Often, when you look behind the curtain the bank’s controls were ignored, everybody was going through the motions but trusted the perpetrators and in many cases gave them control over the areas they were stealing from,” Sizemore said.
“There are too many serious bank frauds taking place to spend valuable resources chasing a fraud where unfortunately the bank is complicit in having no internal controls and poor management,” he said.
McNelley said the problem will persist, especially in times of financial distress.
“It’s an issue that’s not going to go away,” she said. “Internal fraud has been around since the dawn of man. It will continue to be an issue.”