Check washing is so simple, you must learn to prevent check fraud
Are check fraud and check washing still relevant in the age of digital payments? If you’re like the average person, chances are you don’t write too many checks anymore. With the convenience of online payment options, nearly universal acceptance of credit and debit cards, and the proliferation of ATMs offering you easy access to money at every turn, why resort to the archaic, labor-intensive method of writing a check?
The simple answer—sometimes we have no other choice! Some places still don’t accept credit cards (Costco if you don’t have an American Express), or they charge an extra fee for them. Some retailers don’t offer online payment options. And frankly, sometimes it’s just an old habit and we haven’t made the effort to find a safer option because we’re stuck in the mindset of “it’s never happened to me” when thinking about check fraud.
Check washing, a highly common form of check fraud, is the practice of removing legitimate check information, especially the “Pay To” name and the amount, and replacing it with data beneficial to the criminal (his own name or a larger amount) through chemical or electronic means. One of the many ways to protect yourself against check fraud is so important that it deserves its very own article.
A foolproof way to protect your checks from being altered, whether by washing or by electronic means, is to use security checks offered by most companies.
Do you know what’s behind the masks your employees may wear? A staggering number of businesses falter and even fail because someone on the inside – an employee, vendor or even a partner – steals money, goods, data or intellectual property from the organization. Will yours be one of them? Not if you learn about the warning signs of fraudsters and the weaknesses in your current hiring procedures.
The strongest indicator that your business is at risk? Denial. If you have ever said to yourself, “My people would never do that,” or “were too small to be worth a fraudster’s time”, you are caught in a cycle of self-delusional naiveté. Most inside theft happens at the hands of a “trusted” team member. In fact, insider theft and fraud aren’t generally committed by experienced criminals.
Almost 20 billion packages will be delivered through the mail this holiday season. Even at $5 per package, that’s more than $100 Billion in value going through the mail–a scale too large and tempting for criminals to ignore.
Why do thieves target us during the holidays? In addition to the volume and value of holiday mail, criminals are taking advantage of the perfect winter storm:
Trucks are overloaded, mail & UPS carriers are overworked and shoppers are overwhelmed, which makes theft easy and attractive
Thieves take advantage not just of our good nature during the holidays, but of how distracted we are
Criminals see our generosity of giving as a goldmine waiting to be exploited
So I’m out to dinner with a professional speaker whose name I’ll drop so that you’ll be impressed. Larry Winget. Larry is the Pitbull of Personal Development and he’ll probably kill me for not putting a trademark after that title, because he owns it. If you have somebody in your life (kid, employee, boss) that doesn’t take responsibility for the life they lead and the work they’re supposed to do, Larry’s your man. Google his name and find out, or go to LarryWinget.com.
But back to my story. I treated Larry to dinner in Phoenix because I owe him a thousand meals for the coaching he gives me and we’re leaving the table when his wife (who is much nicer than Larry) asks if I’ve taken my credit card out of the folder. Nope. God I hate when that happens! Small oversight for someone who lives and breathes security and privacy. I left my card in the folder, on the table and was fully prepared to leave the restaurant!
Identity thieves prey on those who are most vulnerable. You may be in the process of cleaning up your lives, but someone may want to clean up on you by stealing your valuable private information.
As we learned from Hurricane Katrina, one of the most despicable side effects of a natural disaster is the massive increase in reported cases of identity theft in the affected areas. Thieves take advantage of those who are vulnerable, and those who have suffered flooding, wind damage and the effects of the storm are more vulnerable than ever. Imagine how devastating it would it be to apply for a line of credit to help your family recover from the storm only to find out that your entire net worth now belongs to a thief.
Every dollar counts, now more than ever, as the government searches for ways to wisely spend our money. It’s dismaying to learn that an audit report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has found that the impact of identity theft on tax administration is significantly greater than the amount the IRS detects and prevents. Even worse, the “IRS uses little of the data from identity theft cases…to detect and prevent future tax refund fraud” according to Mike Godfrey, Tax-News.
The IRS is detecting far fewer fake tax returns than are actually falsely filed. 938,700 were detected in 2011. On the other hand, TIGTA identified 1.5M additional undetected tax returns in 2011 with potentially fraudulent tax refunds totaling in excess of $5.2B.
The study predicted that the IRS stands to lose $21B in revenue over the next 5 years with new fraud controls, or $26B without the new controls.
It’s time for young adults to head off to college or move away from home for the first time. This is by far the highest risk group for identity theft for several reasons. When these kids leave the nest, it’s the first time they are getting true financial independence, which they might never have been trained to handle. They have access to credit cards, new bank accounts, and they’re managing it themselves. That may be a huge red flag that there’s going to be trouble. Secondly, they’re going into an environment where their stuff is not particularly protected. They’re in a dorm room or apartment, they’ve got roommates that may need extra cash; they know they can take advantage of them. So it’s a high risk environment. The third reason is because they do so much online. There’s so much social media interaction and that’s where tons of information is stolen. Take the steps listed below and talk to your newly-independent kids about implementing them. It will help them out not just this year but will also help them build their financial future going forward. Your identity is pretty much everything in terms of your net worth. You’ve got to take care of it now.
You may think your deceased loved ones are safe from having their identities stolen. Not true! The Death Master File contains data about millions of deceased people including the full name, Social Security number and other personal information. Though you’d think this would be carefully guarded, the Social Security Administration provides the file to the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS). NTIS, in turn, distributes it to more than 450 entities including state and local governments, hospitals, universities, financial institutions, insurance companies and genealogy services. Even worse, anyone can access the information through the NTIS website. The cost? $10 for one person or an annual subscription with unlimited access to all of the files of deceased individuals costs $995.