I heard a story a good while back about a farmer in North Dakota being visited by a stranger who offered to buy his land for about triple what the farmer thought it was worth.

Finding this strange, the farmer declined the offer but took down the stranger's license plate. Then he checked it out with the motor vehicle people in Bismarck.

"The car belongs to Standard Oil," he was told.

Obviously, figuring that there was oil under his land, he held out for a far greater sum.

If Standard Oil had rented a car for its forays into the field to acquire land in the Williston Basin, it would have saved a fortune.

The moral: Sometimes we give away our identity when we don't want to.

In banking too we have examples of ways outsiders can determine who we are and who we aren't.

I remember being invited to talk for a giant financial institution at Marco Island, Fla.

The top officers were gathered around the pool. When I arrived, I walked in and joined them, even though I had never met any of them.

A little later I saw a tall man wearing a blue suit and thick black shoes. He was standing there looking at everything but not eating or drinking anything.

I went up to him and asked, "You are obviously a security officer protecting these people. Why did you let me join them without questioning who I was?"

"I saw your picture before I left New York," he replied.

One of my favorite stories of finding out people's identity took place at this newspaper.

The then marketing editor, Laura Gross, knew that a major thrift was for sale and that several banks were going to bid on it in a hotel room the next morning.

Wanting the names of the contenders, she plotted how to get them. With clipboard in hand, she stood at the landing where bidders would leave the elevator.

"Are you here for the bidding?" she asked passersby.

If the answer was yes, she asked for their names and the name of their institution, then told them to take the left corridor.

Other examples of both trying to hide who you are or breaking through that barrier:

One major bank had been given some pretty bad press after newspapers revealed that a large number of its officers and their spouses had attended the state convention at a fashionable resort.

The solution: Next year they didn't register half of them in the convention bulletin and just paid for their registration without having them listed.

But my favorite story is one a banking friend thought up but is too chicken to use:

Let's say you want to boost the price of your stock and you feel one way to do so is to start rumors that a growth-minded major bank wants to buy it.

What do you do?

You rent a stretch limousine and put a decal with the logo of that major bank on the rear window. Then every few days you park it near the front door of your community bank.

I think it would work like a charm.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.