Bank Bans Cell Phones

Not because they’re annoying, but as a security measure:

Cell phones have been banned inside the five branches of the First National Bank in the Chicago area, to enhance security.

Even using a cell phone in the bank’s lobby may result in the person being asked to leave the premises.

“We ban cell phone use in the lobby because you don’t know what people are doing,” Ralph Oster, a senior vice president, told the Chicago Tribune. Cell phone cameras are also a worry.

Oster said there have been holdups in which bandits were on the phone with lookouts outside while committing bank robberies.

“You’re trying to stop that communication,” he says.

Banks in Mexico City banned call phones in May and Citizens Financial Bank of Munster, Ind., asks customers to turn off their cell phones.

West Suburban Bank, based in Lombard, Ill., barred customers wearing hats in January but has not moved to silence cell phones.

This is just plain dumb. It’s easy to get around the ban: a Bluetooth earpiece is inconspicuous enough. Or a couple of earbuds that look like an iPod. Or an SMS device. It only has to work at the beginning. After all, once you start actually robbing the bank, a ban isn’t going to deter you from using your cell phone.

Posted on August 4, 2006 at 3:11 PM34 Comments


Rod August 4, 2006 4:32 PM

Exactly. Rules are for honest people. Criminals robbing banks aren’t going to be bothered in the slightest, and meanwhile honest customers are going to be pointlessly inconvenienced.

D August 4, 2006 4:42 PM

I’m waiting for this one:

“Bank Bans Cothing

In an effort to curtail hidden weapons being used in bank robberies, bank branches are requiring customers to enter their lobbies wearing nothing more than birthday suits…”

Israel Torres August 4, 2006 4:47 PM

Really now… So when the bank is getting robbed no one can call using their cell phone to let the law enforcers know there is a robbery in progress or even a hostage situation.

Not only does it ‘secure’ the would be robber from making/taking calls it also secures that the robber can get away without worrying about helpful citizens.

Israel Torres

aultl August 4, 2006 4:52 PM

When I first read this I thought it was from the article in The Harold:

“The criminals are photographing possible victims inside of banks who withdraw a lot of money. They are then sending the photo to another gang member outside who will stalk the person and eventually rob them. The police officials are urging banks to enforce a no cellphone policy.”

Of course, it could be related, and the bank security only read the headline and thought “Maybe we should do this too.”

Michael Ash August 4, 2006 4:56 PM


They’re not banning cell phones from being taken into the bank, they’re banning them from being used. It should be obvious that you can’t ban cell phones altogether without taking draconian measures that would make all of their customers change to another bank instantly. There are many stupidities with this plan, but an inability for customers to contact police is not one of them.

Israel Torres August 4, 2006 5:02 PM

@Michael Ash
“you can’t ban cell phones altogether without taking draconian measures”

It’s called NaturalNano, Inc. and it will be tough to change banks when all banks start using it.

Israel Torres

Moshe Yudkowsky August 4, 2006 5:38 PM

Any security measure can be circumvented; maybe they should get rid of the bank guards and the vaults, too? I have yet to see a yardstick by which you judge one security measure silly and another deterrent worthwhile; it seems to be an arbitrary judgement based on personal taste.

There’s been a spate of bank robberies in the Chicago area, and local banks are considering banning hats and other concealing clothing.

If based on their study of the situation banks believe that cell phones pose a problem, then by all means they should ban cell phones. Given that bank robberies are a stochastic event, there’s so little data that it doesn’t seem likely that either side will ever gather enough data.

Andre LePlume August 4, 2006 6:01 PM

Banning hats? That’s brilliant. It’s not as if adherents of any major religion believe the head needs to be covered or anything.

havoc August 4, 2006 6:21 PM

They could install cell phone jammers. This would not only keep criminals from making those phone calls, perhaps jam hand-held radios as well. The real benifit, however, would be in keeping customers from making or recieving emergency phone calls of any kind, which might distract them from their transaction, or applying for their loan.

This would require them to use their lobbying institutions to allow cell phone jamming in banks, since that is currently not legal in the United States.

dragonfrog August 4, 2006 6:47 PM


I’m waiting for this one:

“Bank Bans Cothing

The main difference between the ban on using cellphones, and a ban on wearing clothing, is of course that the clothing ban would work.

Of course, the banks would also have to prevent people carrying any object that might contain a weapon, such as a purse, briefcase, or courier bag.

Stephen August 4, 2006 6:48 PM

Actually, this isn’t unique. At least in Atlanta, TSA bans the use of mobile phones in the international arrivals area until you’ve cleared customs. I first found out about this policy a couple of years ago while waiting for my luggage to show up on the carousel. I pulled out my mobile phone to let my wife know I had arrived safely and was practically tackled by a security officer. Although I got off with only a warning, confiscation of the phone was threatened. And there were no signs or announcements of the policy, so I guess international travellers are expected to possess ESP. Today, at least on Delta, the flight attendents alert you to the policy with an on-board announcement prior to disembarking.

Ralph August 4, 2006 9:07 PM

Yes, this is REALLY annoying.

With all and sundrey justified in the name of security the rest of the world must think anyone claiming to work in the area must be a COMPLETE IDIOT!

Jonathan Rockway August 4, 2006 9:46 PM

Couldn’t people just step two feet outside the bank (onto public property) and use their phones or photograph the inside of the bank through those weird things in the wall called “windows”?

What problem does this solve, anyway? I wasn’t aware of a rash of people-standing-inside-the-bank-photographing-customers.

b August 4, 2006 9:54 PM

Banning the use of a cell phone in the bank lobby? Are they serious? Sounds to me like a good reason to switch to another bank.

swiss connection August 5, 2006 12:55 AM

Most Banks in Switzerland have had a ban on DECT (wireless) handsets for quite a number of years.

The big question asked by the banks was always: Will customs be able to listen in on our calls!

Paul Crowley August 5, 2006 3:08 AM

@moshe: er, are you new to this blog? The difference between “not guaranteed to stop a robbery” and “guaranteed to do not one iota of good” seems to have evaded you.

In fact the robbers don’t even need Bluetooth headpieces. They can make the call to say “all good, come in” or “forget it, another day” and communicate the message before any staffer has got to them to tell them to put their phone away.

Freiheit August 5, 2006 8:12 AM

Are we sure this is really for security?

Etiquette in the states is not too bad, but there is a loud minority of people that have difficulty deciding when it is appropriate to use or not use a cell phone or when to step aside to take a call and let non-distracted customers move ahead.

Maybe its just a way to help serve customers faster by making sure they aren’t talking on the phone.

roy August 5, 2006 8:22 AM

Follow the logic and we see that bank windows should be painted over to prevent bank robbers from seeing if the police are coming.

Martin August 5, 2006 8:36 AM

Phone jammers? what about just a cage – it’s legal, and effective. Expensive, maybe, but it works and the customers would be none thre wiser until they notice they have no signal.

Andrew August 5, 2006 9:32 AM


With all and sundrey justified in the name of security the rest of the world must think anyone claiming to work in the area must be a COMPLETE IDIOT!

Occupational hazard, I’m afraid. The stupidity does not come from security — it generally comes from line management, with security management taking the blame and security officers taking the heat.

Among many other tedious chores, I guard banks. And the day they install a cell phone jammer is the day I quit in disgust. Because I won’t be able to call the police to get help — did you think I was going to stand there with a wireline phone in one hand and a firearm (or worse, a pen) in the other?!? Do they give us police radios? It’d be nice — but no.

Medical emergencies alone make a cell phone jammer grossly inappropriate.

As for the stalking-lookout issue, they might try something really novel that works to stop bank robbery a huge chunk of the time.

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR CUSTOMERS. Bank robbers hate being cheerfully greeted by someone who is looking at them closely, which happens to be excellent customer service too. Anyone wandering from chairs to teller line talking on a cell phone should be politely challenged, “Excuse me, sir, can we help you with a transaction today?”

Better to know . . . and the other employees pay attention behind the counter can kick the foot trip, etc. if the confrontation goes south. Did I mention cameras covering the exterior doors to catch the faces of people going in AND going out?

If you want to protect (merchant) customers as they travel in and out of the bank, put guards out in the parking lot! It’s the parking lot where they are at most risk of getting nailed.

All banks I know of ban people wearing anything that obscures the nose-eyes: dark sunglasses, face masks, etc. The effects of a pandemic on banking are left as an exercise for the reader.

Rich August 5, 2006 11:38 AM


Oh now you’ve done it! You’re no better than the NY Times. You know, loose lips and all that. These anti-terrorist measures are supposed to be secret for a reason. Now you go blabbing it all over the Internet, and the terrorists will know not to pull out their cell phones in the Atlanta airport until AFTER they’ve cleared customs. Yeesh. How un-American can you get?

Moshe Yudkowsky August 6, 2006 7:58 AM

@Paul: No, I’m not new to this blog. You claim that this policy will do nothing; I claim that it will do something, and it need not be perfect to be effective and reasonable.

Bruce Schneier August 6, 2006 3:58 PM

“You claim that this policy will do nothing; I claim that it will do something, and it need not be perfect to be effective and reasonable.”

What do you claim it will do? I didn’t see any such claim in your first comment.

I don’t think anyone believes a security measure has to be perfect before it can be called effective and reasonable.

Chase Venters August 7, 2006 10:01 AM

If I had an account at that bank, I’d close it and send a letter to the President letting him know exactly why.

Thankfully, private institutions != government, and so in cases like this, people get to vote with their feet.

Anonymous August 7, 2006 9:00 PM

I was talking to a home renovation contractor the other day and he says that when he visits a certain well-known US store to pick up materials he always watches for people following him around while talking on a cell phone. For him that’s a sign someone is ripping off the gear in is truck outside. He assured me that there was one particular location in our area that is notorious for this type of theft and that he nearly always drives the extra mile to the next nearest location.

derf August 8, 2006 9:35 AM

So if you want to use your cellphone while standing in the long line at the bank, you have to enter with a weapon drawn?

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David Stone January 22, 2007 1:56 PM

Phone jammers are awesome. I recommend the RX9000 from It has about a 20 foot range, and is great for shutting up the self-important blabbermouth you are forced to share space with. Great for the movies, restaurants, class, church, the bus or train, even when driving. You can zap the guy in front of you that won’t move at green lights because of that soooo important phone call. Or the guy tailgating you who is so wrapped up in that phone call. Buy one, and the next time you are in line at the grocery store, and some moron is too buy talking on his phone to pay the cashier or put his groceries on the belt, do everyone behind him a favor. Click on your cell jammer and make him SHUT THE CELL UP!

Major Lemon February 19, 2009 7:27 AM

David, the problem with jammers is that they are illegal. A passive solution is ‘Cellphone Detector Plus 610’. It detects unauthorised cellphones within a given area and can sound off a user recorded voice message asking the prohibited phone user to switch off their cellphone. It provides a useful layer of security, not as high as jamming is, but it’s still a welcome extra tool for people to regulate how cellphones are used in the workplace. After all, who pays attention to those vinyl signs?

Anonymouse January 1, 2014 11:14 AM

My current employer bans cameraphones for “security” reasons solely because they are a defense contractor, but when anyone can just upload any confidential file encrypted with their own key to their own personal email at work and non will be the wiser, a working brain would conclude such a ban is completely dumb.

Feel good but practically worthless security measures are stupid.

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