Is It Still Robbery If You Just Ask Nicely?

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Let’s say you walk into a bank, go up to a teller and say something like, “Hi, I was just passing by your bank and thought I’d stop in and see if you’d be willing to give me some money. Could I have some money?” The teller looks at you for a minute and then gives you $28,000. You leave.


According to this report, that’ll be the issue in the trial of Michael Hadar, an Israeli man indicted a couple of weeks ago for robbing at least eight banks in the last five months. Here’s what he did:

In each case, his “modus operandi” was the same: He would walk into the bank and choose a likely looking teller. He would instruct her (it was usually a woman he chose) to gather up some cash and place it into the bag he very politely slid over the counter, as he told her that he had no plans—or means, for that matter—of hurting her or anyone else. There was no running or exciting chase scenes; when his business was done, Hadar walked quietly out of the bank.

In total, he was able to get $28,000 this way. The indictment describes this “modus operandi” as “a very effective method that has proven itself.” Yes, it is a very effective method for getting something—it’s called asking.

We use a variety of terms to refer to illegal ways of getting stuff from people. “Robbery” means taking something from a person by means of violence or a threat of violence. For example, California defines it as “the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.” If the threat is of something other than violence, like disclosing something they want kept secret, that’s extortion. If you get the property through fraud rather than by “force or fear,” that’s larceny. And so forth.

I am hardly an expert on Israeli law, but if this is in fact an accurate translation of the Israeli Penal Code, it defines “robbery” in similar terms:

If a person steals a thing and, while he does so or immediately before or immediately thereafter, performs or threatens to perform an act of violence … in order to obtain the stolen thing or to retain it or to prevent or to prevent or overcome resistance to its being stolen, then that constitutes robbery ….

Well, he didn’t do that.

Not only did he not threaten to perform an act of violence, he specifically said he wasn’t going to do that and made clear that he did not have a weapon of any kind. The report doesn’t suggest that he tried to be intimidating or that any of the tellers actually felt intimidated. He just politely asked for money, and they gave it to him. That’s not robbery, extortion, larceny, or any other crime that I can think of. It’s just a successful request.

That wouldn’t mean that our hero would be able to keep the money, since the tellers were giving away money that didn’t belong to them and that they didn’t have the authority to give. It doesn’t seem that different from a case in which an ATM mistakenly spits out a lot of money and the recipient promptly spends it all, because the law says you can take advantage of bank errors in your favor, right? Nope. That’s Community Chest you’re thinking of there, my friend.

Monopoly bank error card

The bank teller may or may not have made a “mistake,” but the principle I think is the same: there was no authority for the transfer, and so the bank is entitled to get it back. But that doesn’t mean there was a “robbery” in the first place. If he doesn’t have the money anymore, I’m sure they’d find a way to charge him with theft or conversion after the fact, as in this case. But I’m not seeing these as “bank robberies.”

Do I need to mention that you should not rely on this (or on Monopoly cards) as legal advice the next time you visit the bank? Or that the odds that a teller would later claim to have been intimidated, no matter how polite you were, would approach 100 percent? I don’t? Okay, good.