Jim Stickley is an identity thief. He's hacked more than 1,000 banks and has never been caught in the act.
We're all safer because of him.
Stickley is what's known as a "penetration tester"—a gun for hire in the computer-security world.
His life is like something from "Sneakers," the classic 1992 hacker movie starring Robert Redford.
Banks, governments, and businesses hire Stickley to test their security measures.
To rob a bank, he disguises himself as a workman, he told Business Insider. Bank employees think he's legit and escort him right into their offices and vault areas. Once in, he plants keyloggers and wireless dongles and steal credit-card numbers, ATM IDs, bank account and Social Security numbers, and other personal data.
A favorite costume is to dress like a fireman.
"I've gone online and ordered fire [department] badges," he says. "I've got badges for every state. No one reads the badge."
He wears authentic uniforms bought from any uniform store. To complete the costume, he puts a fireman's walkie-talkie radio on his belt and has one of his employees sit outside with another radio. The employee pipes chatter from a police scanner over the radio.
Then he can crawl around people's cubicles and install keyloggers, which are small flash-memory devices that record every keystroke.
"We also try to get into the network, [through] an office cube where they've got open ports," he said. "We plug in a wireless device and then we can sit out in the parking lot, hack away at environment."
He'll dress in other uniforms, too. Pest-control is another good one, he says.
What he does isn't illegal. Before robbing any bank, he gets the necessary legal permissions. But the people at the bank, and the cops responding, don't know what he's up to. They ought to be able to spot and stop him.
And the scary thing is that they never do.
In the 20 years he's been doing this work, he's never been caught. He came close once, when a cleaning crew grew suspicious and called the cops on him. He was banging on the door showing a fake employee badge, trying to get them to let him in.
"People have this idea that hackers only hack only through technology, but that's not the case," Stickley told us. "Criminals steal however its easier to steal."
In other words, they'll dress up as firemen and walk into banks.
Over the years, he's made a lot of banks safer.
For the average Joe he offers this advice:
Go ahead and use online banking. It's just as safe (or unsafe) as ATMs or branch banking. But don't let your kids use the same computer where you do your banking: "Kids will download and install anything."
Installing apps from the Internet is how crooks get you to put secret viruses on your PCs.
More From Business Insider