In the first five days of October, thieves hit three banks in New Mexico and walked away with an undisclosed sum of money.

A man pointed a gun in his belt before handing a note to a cashier at a bank inside a Walmart Supercenter in Albuquerque, the FBI said in a press release. Another claimed he had a bomb in a bag as he robbed a bank in Socorro, the agency said.

A third man, who did not appear to be armed, walked into a US bank in Albuquerque and presented a note demanding money. The same robber was suspected of hitting another bank days earlier, according to the FBI.

The three thefts were part of a series of FBI investigations in the state in recent months, including at least two in Santa Fe. While agents believe there are serial thieves who have committed multiple crimes this year, surveillance camera photos show a range of suspects, many unarmed and barely disguised by face masks. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, bank customers across the state are required to wear masks indoors – and thieves appear largely inconspicuous in theirs.

Experts point to drug addiction as the likely driving force behind most of the 30 New Mexico flights so far in 2021, though they say the trends are unpredictable.

Frank Fisher, FBI spokesman in Albuquerque, said there was no “rhyme or reason” at the time or location of the thefts.

“I can tell you that those we arrest who rob banks often have drug addiction issues,” Fisher said. “We think that’s a motivation… But until we can get our hands on the suspect or suspects of these bank robberies and question them, we don’t really know why this person is robbing banks.”

On August 9 and 12, an unarmed man wearing a baseball cap robbed a Wells Fargo branch on Cordova Road and a US Bank branch on West San Mateo Road. The FBI described the man in his late twenties or early thirties, 5 feet 5 inches tall with an average build.

He has been suspected of seven heists across the state. In July, according to the FBI, he hit two banks in Moriarty and one in Tijeras, Socorro and Bernalillo. Most of the banks were branches of Wells Fargo.

The FBI was still looking for him on Friday.

Fisher noted that it is common for suspects to rob a bank and flee to another state to commit a similar crime.

The 30 heists in the state this year are more than double the number in 2020, when New Mexico saw 14 bank heists. In 2019 there were 20 heists and in 2018 there were 34 – a significant decrease from 54 bank heists in 2017, according to FBI data.

When asked if the state’s face mask warrants influenced the increase in 2021, Fisher said it was not clear.

“Do we think COVID-19 has something to do with this? It’s hard to say, because in 2017 people didn’t have to wear surgical masks, and we had 54 bank heists.” , did he declare.

Fisher did not provide the number of people arrested on suspicion of robbing a bank this year or a list of the heists that have been resolved. However, he said the FBI normally has an “80% solution rate” when it comes to identifying, locating and apprehending offenders.

The success rate could not be achieved without the help of local law enforcement agencies, he added.

While bank robbers have been busy in New Mexico, the American Bankers Association has said nationally, things aren’t that bad.

“Nationally, bank robberies are at their lowest level in three decades, and we believe that the important steps banks are taking every day to improve safety and security are one of the main reasons.” , said Sarah Grano, spokesperson for the association.

Most banks use a series of measures to “minimize the impact of a theft and increase the likelihood that the violator will be caught,” she said. Many cashiers are trained to comply with notes requiring cash to reduce the risk of violence.

Fisher also said that training workers and cooperating banks with law enforcement agencies are essential to protect the community and catch offenders.

“Some people in the public think that a bank robbery is a victimless crime,” he said. “Someone comes in, presents a note… gets the money and leaves.”

He added: “I have seen the cashiers after bank robberies, and the trauma, the emotional toll that this puts on these cashiers, is real. They have damaged the peace of mind of this employee, who’s just there to help customers, and that thief needs to be taken off the streets. “

The FBI has not disclosed how much money, on average, is stolen in each heist, saying it does not want to “inspire” anyone.

One number it does reveal, however, is the number of years a convicted thief spends in prison.

Lester Padilla, 48, robbed three Wells Fargo banks at gunpoint in Española and Santa Fe in 2019. He was sentenced in federal court on June 8 to 12 years and seven months in prison, according to one press release from the US Attorney’s Office in New Mexico.

Fisher said that with public statements about the sentences of convicted offenders, the FBI hopes to deter those considering the crime.

“What bank robbers need to know is that we have surveillance videos. We may have forensic evidence, fingerprints and eyewitness statements,” he said. “Eight out of 10, we get our hands on it, and this person faces a heavy prison sentence.”

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