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8 of the Most Successful Bank Robberies in History

Hollywood isn't the only place with successful heists.

Cash dollars lying on the plane.Rrraum/Shutterstock

$70 million by digging a tunnel, Shawshank Redemption-style

The turf-making business in Fortaleza, Brazil, looked innocent enough, but its employees were after a different type of green. The heist was something you’d think could only happen in the movies: The thieves dug a 256-foot-long tunnel from their building to the bank two blocks over. After getting through nearly four feet of concrete and steel, the thieves managed to make off with about $70 million. It was no easy feat—that much Brazilian currency weighed almost four tons. Only about $8 million was ever recovered, and it holds a Guinness World Record for the greatest robbery of a bank.

Payment one Banknotes in the Bankgoldyg/Shutterstock

$50 million without any questioning

During the middle of Lebanon’s civil war in 1976, authorities had more to worry about than petty thieves. A team from the Palestine Liberation Organization took advantage of the chaos in Beirut and blasted their way into the British Bank of the Middle East. Without much resistance, they kept nearby streets cleared while they plopped themselves at the bank for a couple days to load their trucks. Two days later, they drove away with around $50 million worth of gold, cash, jewels, and stocks. At the time, the clean getaway (none of the loot was ever recovered) earned it a Guinness World Record for biggest bank robbery in the world. Make sure you know the 10 hiding spots where burglars always search for valuables in homes.

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$81 million (and could have been $100 million without the typo)

Welcome to the Internet of Things, where robbers don’t even need to step foot inside to make away with the goods. In 2016, cybercriminals managed to hack into the SWIFT system banks use to transfer money. They made fake requests to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for $1 billion to go from Bangladesh’s central bank to accounts in the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Officials caught on in time to stop most of it from being transferred, but the hackers still successfully made off with $81 million. They could have swiped at least $20 million more if their misspelling of the word “foundation” in one request hadn’t been a red flag. These are 17 of the most bizarre things ever stolen.

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$39 million by dressing as police officers

Police officers showing up at your home is disconcerting—finding out the officers are actually criminals in disguise is downright terrifying. In 2004, armed gang members did just that, holding the families of two Northern Bank executives hostage in Northern Ireland. The executives were ordered to go to work the next day and pretend nothing was happening, then let the gang members into the vaults after the bank closed. If they didn’t listen, their families would be killed. The bank execs did as they were told, and even though one’s wife managed to escape and warn the police, it was too late. The crooks had made off with about $39 million. Only about $2.6 million was ever found, and the ringleaders are still unknown. Don’t miss these 21 things a burglar won’t tell you.

Stacks of one million US dollars in hundred dollar banknotes.pixs4u/Shutterstock

$8 million while claiming to do justice

In 1972, a group of Ohio burglars heard that President Richard Nixon was holding slush fund money in a California bank, so they flew to the Golden State to pull a Robin Hood on the money. They successfully sawed through the ceiling, disabled alarms, and drilled through steel beams to access $8 million in cash, stocks and bonds, and jewelry, leaving no trace behind. It seemed like the perfect crime, until investigators realized it was suspiciously similar to another heist that had been pulled off in the crooks’ home state. After investigators discovered fingerprint-covered dishes in the dishwasher of the home the burglars rented in California, they pinned down their suspects. To rub salt in the foiled robbers’ wounds even more, it turned out the vault they plundered wasn’t Nixon’s after all. Stay safe–here’s how to outsmart a mugger. 

Thieves stealing money from safeAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

$1 billion just by asking

When Saddam Hussein’s son and an assistant arrived at Central Bank in Baghdad with a letter from his dad in 2003, the bank couldn’t argue—even if it was a request for more about $1 billion. “When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it,” an official told the New York Times at the time. The men loaded up three tractor-trailers with cash and drove away. But the clean getaway wasn’t the end of the story. Eight months later, U.S. troops stumbled upon the cash in one of Saddam’s palaces and handed it out to American military commanders. Check out these stories of dumb criminals who left major evidence behind.

briefcase full of one hundred dollar billsNatalya Chernyavskaya/Shutterstock

$300 million after waiting for everyone else to leave

When employees arrived to work at Dar Es Salaam bank in Baghdad one morning, they found the front door open—and about $300 million in U.S. currency gone from the bank. Three guards who normally slept there overnight had also mysteriously disappeared, but neither they nor the money was ever found.

Use-This-Infographic-To-Never-Have-to-Carry-Cash-AgainChampion studio/Shutterstock

$19 million from an insider job

As we all know from heist movies, having an insider on your side can be key to making a foolproof plan. In 1997, a Dunbar Armored Co. employee was fired for tampering with the company’s vehicles. Oh-so-coincidentally, the next day, six bandits got into the garage with keys in hand, then tied up some Dunbar employees before filling a U-Haul with $18.9 million in cash. The robbers then rolled up to a house party, giving them a solid alibi. Even though the former employee was a prime suspect, it took the authorities more than two years to pin down the men. Even then, $10 million was unaccounted for. Don’t miss more of the 11 most expensive things ever stolen.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.