Check fraud has many ugly faces.
Check fraud does not discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re a person or a business, wealthy or not, the customer or the Bank. Check fraud and those committing check fraud look for ways to deceive, manipulate, alter and perpetrate. Simply put, a way, any way, to illegally acquire, nay steal, funds that do not exist within an account balance or account holder’s legal ownership.
Want some stats? Of course you do.
- According to FinanceNook, in one year, merchants take in over $13 billion dollars in bad checks. Even with more purchases being made online, this number is expected to grow annually by 18%.
- According to the American Collectors Association, Americans write around 1.7 million bad checks each day, totaling more than $50 million in bad check losses.
- The National Check Fraud Center has reported that check fraud and counterfeiting are the largest and fastest growing problem that the United States financial system faces today. These estimated losses produced annually are over $10 billion and are expected to continue rising.
Trust No One
To protect yourself or your business against check fraud, it is suggested by many experts to start with this basic axiom, “Trust No One.” Anyone can commit fraud. You, me, your doctor, your friend, your neighbor or even your favorite Uncle can commit fraud and there are many ways to do it. Check fraud prevention is not a simple task. There are many things to be done that, when executed together, will help to protect yourself from check fraud. While I may offer you some tips to help you fight check fraud, I do not want to lead you to believe or suggest that you can ever be 100% fraud-proof.
Forms (yes, form(S) as in plural, as in numerous) of Check Fraud
- Forgery - Forgery usually takes place when an employee issues a check without proper authorization. Often times, criminals will steal a check, endorse it and present it for payment at a bank or a retail location using bogus identification.
- Counterfeiting and Alteration – Counterfeiting or altering a check by using readily available desktop publishing equipment consisting of a PC, scanner or high-grade laser printer or simply duplicating a check with advanced color photocopiers.
- Paperhanging – People who purposely write checks on closed accounts (their own or others) or who re-order checks on closed accounts (their own or others).
Great, so how do you prevent check fraud from happening to you?
Remember, trust NO ONE! (sorry to be so blunt)
- Secure all reserve supplies of checks, deposit slips and other banking documents in a locked facility. Limit the number of people with access to your checks and keep blank checks locked up at all times. If your checks fall into possession of unscrupulous employees, you could be liable for substantial losses. Never leave checks or bank records unattended.
- Make sure that your checks include security features that will help combat counterfeiting and alteration.
- Assign accounts payable functions to more than one person and make each one responsible for different payment areas. This division of responsibility makes it more difficult for employees to tamper with checks and payments.
- Limit the number of official signers. The fewer check signers you have, the lower your chances are of being defrauded.
- Require more than one signature on large dollar check amounts. In this way, any losses you may incur will be low denominations only.
- Check with your business banker to see if they provide products such as Positive Pay to help prevent check fraud. Basically, a business owner writes checks and if there are any discrepancies between the checks written and the checks clearing the account, the business owner has the option to either pay or return the items.
- Separate the check writing and account reconcilement functions. Try not to have the same person who balanced the bank statement issue checks. This provides greater safeguards against an employee writing fraudulent checks and covering it up. The reconciler would be able to prevent the crime unless of course the employees are in collusion.
So what have we learned here?
Check fraud is everywhere and coming to a dishonest individual near you.
There are many different ways that check fraud is perpetrated as well as many different ways to prevent or safeguard it from happening. This blog merely scratches the surface of, check fraud underground world. Educating yourself further on this ever growing problem is an ongoing process and is strongly suggested for even the smallest of business owners (as well as individuals).
Remember, when it comes to your well earned money, “Trust No One,” and never think for a second that it can’t happen to you. As a matter of fact, it’s happening to someone right now – is it you?