Check fraud: avoid being a victim

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

The check looked like the real deal. The paper stock was genuine, the “City of Darlington” logo appeared authentic, and the account number was correct. Still, tellers at Darlington’s First Palmetto Bank felt uneasy, so they contacted city administration offices to verify the transaction before handing over any cash to the young stranger waiting at their counter.

Smart move. As it turned out, the $3,000 check in question had been paid out to a vendor business and was subsequently stolen from that vendor’s mailbox. The man attempting to cash the check, Fuquan M. Stevens, 19, of Goldsboro, NC, and his 19-year old sister, Sade Oksana Stevens, were taken into custody by the Darlington Police Department.

DPD Chief Danny Watson says that bank personnel became suspicious after noting that the check listed Fuquan Stevens’ address as Erinvine Court in Darlington, while his ID listed a Goldsboro address. Watson says this is a common tip-off, and notes that while bank employees are trained to sniff out bad checks, business owners and regular citizens can develop similar skills with a bit of discipline, practice, and boldness.

Watson says that with the ready availability of check stock through office supply stores and the sharp printing and graphics capabilities of high-tech computers and printers, counterfeit checks look more legitimate than ever. This means the best way to detect fraud is through plain old vigilance and vetting procedures.

“If the person has a local address, look them up (in the phone book or online) and make sure the address matches. And make sure their ID matches the address on the check,” Watson says.

Also, check the date of issue on their photo ID. If the driver’s license or ID card was issued very recently, it may have been obtained to give a fraudster the appearance of legitimacy.

A very low check number can also serve as a warning sign, since most businesses are lost past the “00001” sections of their checkbooks. While inspecting a check, look closely at the routing numbers and account numbers and make certain they measure up; American Bankers Association-designated routing numbers have nine digits, and bank account numbers normally have nine to twelve digits. Too many digits, or too few, and you might be looking at a counterfeit.

Even if you can’t pinpoint why you don’t trust the check – or the person presenting the check – sometimes your intuition could be trying to warn you away from danger. Watson says in those cases, don’t let your concern over appearing rude dissuade you from asking for help from local law enforcement.

“Just call us and let us know. An honest person is not going to mind if you check on things,” says Watson. “Remember that if it looks too good to be true, it generally isn’t true.”

Protecting yourself and your business against check fraud can be a simple matter. Here are a few easy tips to avoid the most common pitfalls:

• If you regularly receive payment via mail, use a locked mailbox or a post office box.
• Never use checks or deposit slips to scribble notes.
• Keep your writing legible and don’t leave blank spaces on the payee and amount entries.
• Don’t endorse a check until you are at the bank and ready to receive cash or make your deposit.
• Never write credit card numbers on your checks; it could prove to be a very costly “memo” reminder.
• Store all of your checking account info, including checks, deposit slips, bank statements and cancelled checks, under lock and key.
• In the event of a burglary, make sure your checks and bank information hasn’t been lifted or interfered with. Sometimes crooks will pilfer a couple of checks from the middle or back of the checkbook, so be thorough.
• Take care with your credit card receipts and those balance transfer convenience checks – you know, the ones that arrive in the mail whether you want them or not. Stay on top of your bank statements and always reconcile your accounts within 30 days of receiving the statement.
• Protect checking account information and ATM card and PIN data, and never share that information, even with family members.

Further bank account safety precautions are advised by the Government Finance Officers Association:

• Maintain check images in preference to paper copies.
• Keep check stock in a locked and secure location with a formal inventory listing maintained. Secure check stock daily. Remove continuous check stock from printers. Lock and secure check specific printers. Consider the use of blank or unprinted check stock with inventory control numbers. The actual check number may be generated through the financial accounting system.
• Physically void returned checks and check copies, and retain in a locked and secure location or destroy on a schedule.
• Provide for the temporary physical security of electronically deposited checks, including storage in a secure facility, timely destruction such as secure shredding.

Author: Duane Childers

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