Credit Union Security: 4 Ways to Beat the Bad Guys

Spencer Coursen of Coursen Security Group provides expert commentary to credit unions looking to beat the bad guys.

Matthew Yussman, CFO for the $122 million Achieve Financial Credit Union who also doubles as the Berlin, Conn.-based cooperative’s security training officer, was a victim of an unusual criminal plot that he never saw coming.

Last February, Brian Scott Witham and Michael Anthony Benanti took Yussman hostage, duct taped a bomb to his chest and forced him into a failed attempt to rob his own credit union. They targeted Yussman, as well as two other credit union employees and their families, via social media sites and used portable cameras to case their victims.

Although executives and employees who work in the financial services industry may be at a higher risk of becoming targets of criminals, security experts say credit union employees can take steps to protect themselves and reduce their risk of becoming the next victim. Security experts also shared what employees can do to survive a hostage situation.

1. Don’t be a soft target.

A soft target is someone who is distracted or not paying attention to their surroundings, even in their own neighborhood.

In Yussman’s case, for example, he parked his car in his driveway and unloaded some stuff to place in the garage. While he was doing that, he was rushed by Benanti and Witham.

Yussman acknowledged that if he had driven his car into his garage and closed the garage door, he may have been able to prevent the incident from happening.

Randy Spivey, CEO and founder of the Center for Personal Protection and Safety in Reston, Va., said his company will watch executives and their daily habits to determine if they are soft or hard targets and make recommendations.

“A hard target is going to be somebody that is not paranoid but they’re not oblivious,” he said. “When they’re walking around town or they’re coming out of their house at night, they are aware of their surroundings.”



2. Take simple security steps.

Spencer Coursen, president/CEO of the Coursen Security Group in New York City, said even the most basic safety and personal security precautions can significantly reduce an employee’s vulnerability.

“Something as simple as modifying your daily movement, taking alternate routes to and from work, school or the gym, or even every so often driving around your block before pulling into your driveway sends a clear message to anyone taking notice that your actions are not overly predictable,” Coursen said.

If you suspect someone is casing your home, call the police, Spivey said.

Spivey also recommended that in addition to a home security alarm system, you should consider installing security cameras around your home. For a couple of hundred dollars you can invest in a basic camera system that can make your home a hard enough target for criminals to avoid, he said.



3. Ask yourself, “Is somebody following me?”

If you believe someone is following you, Spivey recommended that you don’t confront the person.

Instead, stop and look in the general direction of that person from a safe distance of about 20 or 30 yards away.

“I’ve seen people who sense that somebody is following them and they look at them and pretend that they’re dialing their phone as if they are reporting it to somebody, which can be a deterrent,” he said. “That makes you a hard target versus a soft target.”

Keep an eye out for safe havens such as police and fire stations. Restaurants, hotel lobbies, public libraries, community centers and hospitals can also be safe places where you can get help.

4. Restrict your social media information.

It’s also important to limit the information you post about yourself onsocial media sites.

“We’ll see individuals that sometimes will have two different profiles. They may have one that’s open to the public and the information that’s on there is very generic and very controlled,” Spivey explained. “Executives also may have very private social media sites that they use only for very close friends and family members.”

Spivey said executives need to understand that if they post information on social media, criminals may be able to use it as an opportunity to commit a crime.

“Think about your teenage daughter and what information you’d want and wouldn’t want her to put on social media,” he said. “Think about all the guys who might be looking at that information and how you’d want to control that.”

In addition to changing your passwords every quarter; updating software, security and privacy settings; and never opening unsolicited links or connecting with someone you don’t know, Coursen said it may be a good idea to protect your online browsing habits from being tracked or monitored.

Coursen said software exists to assist with this effort, including free options that provide access to a network of anonymous proxy servers. It was originally intended to help journalists, spies and students who live in regions of online censorship, he said.

It’s also very important to regularly run virus scans on your computer and update the security features on your wireless router at home.

5. Surviving a Hostage Situation

To survive a hostage situation, it’s important to remember the three C’s: Calm, connect and capitalize.

“The first C is that you want to be a calm influence, because it’s going to be a very nerve wrecking experience,” Spivey said. “The reality is that most hostages survive.”

What Spivey means by connect is to help the criminals see you as person, not as an object.

“You don’t want them seeing as you as the CFO of a credit union. You want them to see you as a dad, a husband, a brother, something that connects you as a person,” he said. “The reason is, it’s easier to kill an object than a person. You want to engage them in a way that makes you seem like a likable person. You don’t want to be rude. You don’t want to be arrogant.”

And then capitalize, which means to encourage the criminals to a peaceful solution that is going to meet whatever they want.

“If they want money, then you may say, ‘OK, well, let’s see what we can do to help that,’ Spivey explained. “Whatever you do, you don’t want to argue with them. You want to be a calming influence as best as you possibly can to encourage a peaceful resolution.”

Although it is risky, the opportunity to escape from a hostage situation may be another option depending on the circumstances.

“The best opportunity for escape may occur in the first moments of a kidnapping,” Coursen said. “Kidnappers will sometimes let down their guard momentarily or do something that can afford the victim the opportunity to escape. The kidnapper may not have considered that a victim may react by fleeing or taking a chance. If circumstances permit, try to get away.”


This article by Peter Strozniak originally appeared here:

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.



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