Nearly one of every four bank robberies in the Washington, D.C. area occurs in the month of December, according to a review of U.S. Justice Department records by the News-4 I-Team.
The spike has occurred each December since 2011, the I-Team found -- and it's caught the attention of FBI special agents in Washington D.C. and northern Virginia.
The I-Team’s review of nationwide bank robberies also shows an increase in weeks before Christmas in other regions of the country. In 2013, the rate of bank heists across the country spiked nearly 30 percent in December.
FBI supervisory special agent Peter Jurack said criminals tend to grow increasingly desperate during the weeks before the holidays. Jurack said bank robbers, in particular, appear less suspicious and conspicuous when entering banks in winter months.
And there's another factor at work: "In December, it’s easier to mask your identity," he said. "It’s normal to be walking around in a winter coat and things like that.”
In several recent cases reviewed by the News-4 I-Team, bank robbers threatened employees, customers or neighbors of the banks. In 15 percent of bank heists in the Washington D.C.-area in 2014, bank robbers brandished weapons.
In April, an escaped bank robber led police on a region-wide pursuit. The escapee broke into a home in Annandale, stole clothing and then stole a car to continue his escape.
The home owner, Lorraine Giovinazzo, said she worried for the safety of her son and neighbors. "The entire neighborhood was filled with children," Giovinazzo said. “And a guy with a gun is there.”
Surveillance footage from a heist at a Woodbridge, Virginia Wells Fargo shows the robber wielding a gun, with his finger on the trigger.
Jurack said the images demonstrate the desperation of some of the robbers.
"Bank robbery is a crime of escalation," Jurack said. "Our offenders are addicts or having gambling issues or are motivated by greed.”
Bank robbers in the D.C. area also include repeat offenders. A robber dubbed the “Forever Loyal Bandit” by FBI special agents struck three banks in 2014, went dormant for nearly a year, then struck again, Jurack said.
"His case is intriguing to us," Jurack said. "He resurfaces ... then he disappears.”
Surveillance footage of the suspected robberies show the man walking with a noticeable limp from his left leg.
The FBI has solved about 65 percent of its recent bank robberies in northern Virginia and Washington DC. The agency credits assistance from local police agencies with helping close those cases.