Apparently it's not just the robber in a ski mask you have to fear when entering your neighborhood bank. The friendly person behind the counter could also be a threat.

money exchanging hands
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That's the new warning from cybersecurity expert Adam Levin, founder of IDentity Theft 911 and a former consumer affairs director for the state of New Jersey.

Pointing to a recent New York case in which a bank fraud ringleader used a bank teller to withdraw funds from accounts of dozens of customers across a handful of states, including New Jersey, Levin called bank tellers the "new identity thieves."

"With someone's social security number, and enough additional information about them, you could open new accounts in their name, you could commit tax fraud, you could commit medical identity theft, you could commit criminal identity theft," Levin said, suggesting tellers who make modest wages see this type of crime as a "big payday with little work."

In February, a man was convicted for running an ID-theft ring in which he recruited his girlfriend to obtain a bank teller position in Newburgh, New York. Using stolen account information and fake identification, he withdrew funds from 77 accounts in New York, New Jersey and other states. Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) on Elm Street in Westfield was listed as an affected branch.

Given their easy access to personal customer information, Levin said, bank tellers may be bribed by thieves to act as a conduit, or they could get the job with the sole purpose of getting their hands on sensitive material.

"In many cases it's about getting there, establishing trust, building relationships with people and then siphoning off information," he said.

According to John McWeeney, president of the New Jersey Bankers Association, cybersecurity threats could come from an internal source such as an employee, but banks are "very careful" when deciding who to hire.

"They try to put them through screenings so that they don't hire someone who potentially could be a threat within the bank," McWeeney said. "You have people handling money, you have people handling confidential information, people's account numbers."

Commenting on the select banks the state regulates, a spokesman for the state Department of Banking and Insurance said its up to each bank to screen, train and vet their employees. But if the department uncovers a bank's failure to take proper employee screening precautions, the department "would see to it that the bank took corrective action," the spokesman said.

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