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$150 million bank robbery by fax machine

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  January 16, 2013 02:37 PM

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1736694514_d40362cd14_z.jpgLast month the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story about a (nearly) brilliant Ocean's Eleven-style bank heist that came this close to netting a band of international criminals a smooth $150 million. The thieves hacked into the phone system of JPMorgan Chase's Sydney office and sent a spurious fax with instructions to have the money wired to four overseas bank accounts.

Later that afternoon, senior bank staff from JPMorgan return from their festive Christmas lunch, eager to get away on their four-day holiday. Despite noticing that the people from SSGA have mistakenly dated the fax November rather than December, they authorise the release of a colossal $150 million. Within minutes, four overseas bank accounts with next to no money in them - two in Hong Kong, one in Switzerland and one in Greece - are bursting with balances each in the tens of millions.

The caper went down in 2003 and is only now being fully reported. You'd think there'd be no chance of something like that working, but as journalist Kate McClymont writes, the bandits took advantage of tipsy bank employees so inured to moving large sums of cash that they didn't notice suspicious details in the fax- including the fact that two of the accounts were connected to gambling interests (an ideal vehicle for laundering money). The plot might have worked, too, but for three errant letters on one set of routing instructions.

For an enjoyable companion read, consider engineer-blogger Tim Hunkin’s lament that no one learns the art of safecracking anymore.

Image of bank vault courtesy of Jason Bechtel

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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