GECU Voices brings you guidance and insight from experts within the Credit Union. Today’s blog post was penned by Bill Lantry, our Vice President of Fraud Investigations.
You may have read some recent Cincinnati news stories about thieves stealing mail out of personal mailboxes or even from blue mail containers around town or at the post office. Why would they do this, and what are they looking for? Check fraud holds many opportunities for criminals. Learn what they are and how to nip your risk in the bud.
First, think about what people are mailing. Aside from the occasional letter to Santa from an eager child, what do most mailboxes contain? If you guessed a check for some type of payment, you are right. Whether you’re paying a bill with a check or mailing a congratulations card to a recent graduate, a thief has no interest in its purpose or intended recipient. They just want to get their hands on your check and the information on it. For them, finding one is like striking gold.
In May 2022, Blue Ash police arrested several people involved in an elaborate counterfeit check ring. These people were caught when a resident witnessed someone get out of a car and rummage through her mailbox. She got the license plate of the car and called the police. The police investigated the situation and located the car at a Blue Ash hotel.
After a search warrant was issued, police entered a hotel room and found stolen mail that innocent consumers and business owners put in their mailboxes. Some of this mail contained checks inside them. The thieves were part of a elaborate scheme plot in which they used the information on the checks to create counterfeit checks. Ultimately this group was arrested, and equipment and counterfeit checks confiscated. However, the police warn there are others out there doing the same thing. What can you do to protect yourself from these criminals?
Staying one step ahead
On the consumer side, there are many steps you can take. If you need to pay a bill, consider switching to electronic payments using your financial institution’s Bill Pay1 feature. This tool consolidates your eBills under one login. Your payment and account information is securely stored within Bill Pay, giving you peace of mind on top of time saved.
For gifts, such as those to a graduate, use apps like Popmoney, Zelle®, or Venmo to send money. If you must mail a check, we recommend bringing the mail to the post office placing it in the inside mail box or handing it directly to a mail clerk. The risk is reduced because there’s less opportunity for the mail to get into the wrong hands. Lastly, always review the transaction history on your checking account to ensure everything looks legitimate. If you find a problem, report it as soon as possible.
On the business side we recommend the same techniques as we recommend for a consumer. However, there is an additional fee-based product most financial institutions, including General Electric Credit Union (GECU), offer to businesses, called check Positive Pay. We’ll verify every incoming check against a listing of checks the business uploads or inputs into Business Online Banking or our mobile app right after they are written. Any incoming check not on the authorized list will be flagged and dubbed an exception. We’ll send you an email the morning after the check posts, asking you to login and review the exception. You can pay or return the exception up until a certain time of day. We have been able to return counterfeit checks immediately for our business members with this simple risk mitigation product.
All financial institutions do their very best to protect the funds of clients or members. However, consumers and businesses need to reevaluate their habits in this space as well. Thieves are out there looking for your information. Learn more about Bill Pay and how it can save you time, boost your security, and even potentially save you a dime or two. Then, use Online Banking or our mobile app to enroll in Bill Pay and add your accounts. Together, we can help you avoid the headache of check frau