Criminals and the Normalization of Masks

I was wondering about this:

Masks that have made criminals stand apart long before bandanna-wearing robbers knocked over stagecoaches in the Old West and ski-masked bandits held up banks now allow them to blend in like concerned accountants, nurses and store clerks trying to avoid a deadly virus.

“Criminals, they’re smart and this is a perfect opportunity for them to conceal themselves and blend right in,” said Richard Bell, police chief in the tiny Pennsylvania community of Frackville. He said he knows of seven recent armed robberies in the region where every suspect wore a mask.


Just how many criminals are taking advantage of the pandemic to commit crimes is impossible to estimate, but law enforcement officials have no doubt the numbers are climbing. Reports are starting to pop up across the United States and in other parts of the world of crimes pulled off in no small part because so many of us are now wearing masks.

In March, two men walked into Aqueduct Racetrack in New York wearing the same kind of surgical masks as many racing fans there and, at gunpoint, robbed three workers of a quarter-million dollars they were moving from gaming machines to a safe. Other robberies involving suspects wearing surgical masks have occurred in North Carolina, and Washington, D.C, and elsewhere in recent weeks.

The article is all anecdote and no real data. But this is probably a trend.

Posted on May 20, 2020 at 6:26 AM28 Comments


Erwin8 May 20, 2020 7:22 AM

… the larger point is that wearing-of-masks is NOT, in itself, a dangerous behavior.

Criminals also wear hats, sunglasses, and beards without criminal offense.

Politicians routinely criminalize non-criminal behaviors because it sometimes helps identify actual criminals — but that also lumps many innocent persons into an unjust, artificial category of “crime”.

In the U.S., politicians have no constitutional authority to criminalize mask-wearing (as many locales do) — but politicians are rarely constrained by such quaint notions.

John May 20, 2020 8:09 AM

Also, if crime is increasing one must ask if it is infact related to a perceived opportunity or simply due to pressure from worsening economic conditions?

jbmartin6 May 20, 2020 8:12 AM

There has to be one or more limiting factors on this. Mask-wearing is common in East Asia well before the COVID-19 pandemic, yet there is no particular trend of mask-wearing miscreants.

Quidnam May 20, 2020 8:41 AM

You’re behind the curve, Erwin — it’s the non-mask wearers who are the presumptive criminals (or at least thought criminals) now.

David Smith May 20, 2020 9:38 AM

AP goes to law enforcement for a story, and law enforcement’s primary focus is on crime solving, not crime prevention. I personally am more concerned with crime avoidance. That is to say, if a crime is going to occur, I’d like to be somewhere else.

Before mid-March, if I saw a person wearing a mask walk into a store, that would be a marker to pay more attention. A quick calculation – where is the store (Tokyo or Baltimore), how is the person behaving, etc. would likely tell me to relax, but it might tell me to leave or at least stand closer to the door. A mask wouldn’t be the only marker that might trigger the calculation, but it would be a significant “tell”.

With everyone in the store wearing a mask, that marker is gone. Not the end of the world, but it’ll take some getting used to.

rrd May 20, 2020 9:40 AM

Random semi-related share:

I’ve been reading Geoff Manaugh’s “A Burglar’s Guide to the City” these past couple of weeks and find it rather excellent. It’s good to have a paper book while the kids are using the two primary computers for Khan Academy, and it’s almost always good to get a fresh perspective on something as ubiquitous as architecture.

Regarding masks, being a white guy I find it’s no big deal to wear one (and my fam does when out), but I’d feel rather queasy about wearing one if was a PoC, due to the combination of black people still being regularly gunned down in the street with the fact that C19 seems to be hitting minority communities here in America much harder than others.

Ultimately, the masks issue is really showing which of our fellow citizens give a shit about other human beings vis a vis science. That is, except for the criminals using this new 21st Century camouflage. It’s a real-time sociological experiment 😉 And here in America, the ignorant hordes sure are rearing their ugly white heads, and proudly at that.

Regardless, crises tend to expose people’s true natures, and here we are.

stine May 20, 2020 10:12 AM

I was so looking forward to going into my bank wearing a mask, but I didn’t get there before they closed their lobby… colour me disappointed.

Alejandro May 20, 2020 10:18 AM

I note from cruising colorful fashion masks are all the rage now. Must admit the n95 makes my nose itch and steams up the glasses. I suppose facial ID security sys-ads are not happy.

MikeA May 20, 2020 10:56 AM


The N95 masks with an “exit valve” (my term, no idea what the official term is) help a lot to alleviate fogging of glasses, but they also defeat half the purpose for which people might wear a mask. In general, they are to protect the wearer from the outside world, so filtering ingress is most important.
Filtering egress is the job of the “Surgical mask” (pleated with typically an elastic headband), and is designed to protect others from the wearer. It’s a matter of priorities.

0795 May 20, 2020 12:03 PM

What I don’t see any more since the crisis has started is spam. No bitcoin spam. No Viagra spam. Well… …one “we sell masks” per day. But nothing else.

Alex May 20, 2020 1:27 PM

Is the trend that more successful robberies are taking place because masks no longer cause concern or that the robberies that are occurring are using surgical masks instead of their traditional garb?

Some Guy May 20, 2020 2:40 PM

Gait recognition will replace facial recognition for area surveillance very soon and it is unfazed by masks.

We will long for the good ‘ol days when covering your face made it harder for people to track you and spy on you.

Andrew May 20, 2020 3:00 PM

This isn’t new, just more widespread.

I remember a story from decades ago (when ski tickets were mostly bought with cash). A skier wearing a generic ski parka and pants with a full face ski mask common in the 70’s and 80’s walked up to a ticket window at Killington, Vermont and liberated several thousands of dollars. He then just blended into the crowd and disappeared.

Bilateralrope May 20, 2020 3:18 PM

I see two confounding factors, at least down here in New Zealand:
– The density of people in stores is less than what it was before the pandemic.

  • Lots of places have someone on the door, usually a licensed security guard, who is controlling numbers. Someone who wasn’t there before the pandemic.

Jolita May 20, 2020 3:22 PM

Labas, so what i would like to point out especially
Is that persons of intrest that do know such things as security as within this group could be attacked from groubs that are intrested in securing there environments, sometimes very subtle asking questions etc…

As a person of intetrest you dont see the threat because its so subtle, what i want everyone in this community to observe especially is not only common sence but to make sure that you have understood and excecuted the strategy towards these kinds of threats now and in the future

Boring Non Tor Answer

RedWing May 20, 2020 3:25 PM

Hi Jolita, as a non tor user i hear you loud and clear, i hope you have a nice evening tonight darling

Mike May 20, 2020 4:18 PM

Pseudoanonymity in general

So lets talk about some minor or perhaps major issues regarding pseudoanonymity and computer users on the INTER-NET

Why do we even need to talk about it, well..
google it, its not as its not an issue, unfortunately this is an issue fullstop

So to cover some of those basics and very importantly not getting involved in anything illegal here we just want to be sure that we stay safe from all sorts of threats out there so we use common sence approach towards this thing.

What is Pseudo anonymity in the firstplace one may ask, well hard to tell its you but it isnt, you will know that if someone is addressing this persone on twitter calling him/her selfe user-12312312312312312
that its you, but its difficult to make that user-xxx be connected with your realname, so thats what we are talking about here.

Its NOT about trying to hide from LE or such
so couple of things to consider here are
– Gender
– Language Group
– Name
– Age
– Etc

Choosing a gender in my opinion is a give or take, there are algorithms that can recover or figure out your gender from the stuff you write, so trying an opponent sex i would think personally is a give or take, i would choose the correct gender to be honest it doesnt give alot anyhow

Language group or even pinpointing the language or maybe even dialect could give some giveaways from were a particular person is from, and the style o writing punctuation and such sure could too, and from a forensic point of view could be vulnerable, again is that important for you? for most people it isnt, and if it is then pseudo anonymity isnt your problem, i would personally use english, its a common lingo, however if you are from other parts of the world, use what ever is common there.

Ok so this is a more intresting one, and your name should actually be choosen wisely, google for the most common names for your choosen language group to give examples of what name to choose, pay particularly attention to the fact that certain names can be used by both sexes, such as Chris as an example

I dont have much to advice, but if you want to spoof your age, try to use different language patterns

Yes well there has beem some testings with things as google translate, remember that those translates are saved by google herselfe
however the theory goes
1. write something in language 1
2. use google translte to translate it to language 2
3. retranslate it back from language 2 to language 1

Post your message

Ok.. i hope you have got yourslfe a go towards why pseudo anonymity is useful and when it isnt, and how to make that pseudo anonymity barrier more anonymous

Have a nice day

Conrad May 20, 2020 4:38 PM

Hi, i have been also thinking about the masks
Zorro , The Phantom, Phantom of the Opera
I dont know many many are using facemasks to hide the persons ID almost.

So I could be wrong but the IR and perhaps other frequency areas of these cameras that are in use dont give a ratass of if you are covered with a peace of cloth or not

So if it need to be effective it should be studied further, maybe a “tinfoil” layer behind the clothing or between layers of clothings, and maybe using printing on the cloth that makes the algorithms confused, there is plenty of information regarding that.

The main question however in my opinion is
– Make the politicians that legalice them accountable and put them on trial
– Remove the laws that make them legal
– Dismantle the cameras

Rachel May 20, 2020 7:36 PM

now allow them to blend in like concerned accountants, nurses and store clerks

The above line in the introduction by Mr Schneier. As it was at the very beginning, I thought it was describing a new technology of rubber mask where people could actually make their face look like an accountants, a nurses or a store clerks.

Denton Scratch May 21, 2020 4:37 AM

I often wear a felt fedora hat – the natural insulation on my scalp has suffered the ravages of time. Combined with a bandana mask, I’m afraid it makes me look like John Dillinger or Al Capone (it’s not deliberate – I don’t mean to frighten people).

Norio May 21, 2020 12:48 PM

When the wearing of masks first started becoming prevalent, a black friend in Chicago commented that he would never go into a store, bank, etc. wearing a bandana-type mask because he was afraid of being shot by security guards or police. As he said, “I want to be safe, but I want to be SAFE.” This is a different perspective indeed, perhaps the obverse (or perverse):

Why some people of color say they won’t wear homemade masks

Two black men say they were kicked out of Walmart for wearing protective masks. Others worry it will happen to them.

I’m a black man in America. Entering a shop with a face mask might get me killed.

Senators are demanding a solution to police stopping black men for wearing — and not wearing — masks.

Faustus May 25, 2020 11:21 AM

Maybe the bank robbers were just being good citizens and protecting the citizenry from the virus. Or trying to protect themselves. And which side of the plexiglass has the real criminals>

The virus has done us the service of exposing the utter absurdity and hypocrisy of just about everyone. What excuses people will make to justify the outcome they wanted all along.

My assessment of the human race declines daily. Could the virus actually be the disinfectant and human beings the infection?

The whole fact that Back Lives Matter is a controversy speaks for itself. Add governmental theft under color of civil forfeiture and insider trading with confidential information and so on. Police departments that have never fired a weapon at a suspect arming up with armored personnel carriers.

And finally that there is no safe way to be a black person in most of the United States. Masked/unmasked. Nice car/ junker / pedestrian. You are under the authority of any white person who points a gun at you. But if races were reversed the armed folks would clearly be the aggressors.

Reparations which will end up like class action lawsuits with white lawyers walking away with 95% of the proceeds, one way or another.

And I’m white.

I almost feel like the virus was engineered to be a mirror. The Arcturans giving us one last chance to show sentience. (Is human intelligence possible? No they don’t understand the tokens they manipulate. Whatever you do make sure they can’t exit the Chinese puzzle room!! They have been been mistrained and are horribly susceptible to adversarial data. Once they have eaten and fornicated they will undoubtedly find some reason to kill you.)

I live outside the US. I have started a project to feed as many people who have lost income and support as I can, while employing others to execute it. I won’t accept money because I have been in the NGO world, and I have yet to find an NGO whose main beneficiary is not the privileged people running it. So I buy the food and accept some food from interested friends.

But still: There are people quarantined in my town. They can’t leave their houses and no one brings them food. Swap the people around and you would get the same result. The human condition in a nutshell.

Joe Celko June 15, 2020 10:19 AM

I was in a local convenience store and a young man in a mask, sunglasses and a cap came in. His take on the situation was that nobody stops or even looks at him, but if he wear a Hoodie, they reach for the phone 🙂

Awaywego June 30, 2020 3:02 PM

From rrd:
“ of black people still being regularly gunned down in the street ”
Throwaway line from a rabid progressive Labour Party member.
Oh yes it may well be true if it were Shitcago, or Baltimore.
Pre-Pandemic. Anybody wearing a bandanna, kerchief face mask and sunglasses into a bank would be cause for alarm, maybe.

Weather June 30, 2020 3:38 PM

Wrong thread, but yeah over reaction to stimulus’s can make bad decision.

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