The following op-ed was written by James A. (Ja) Hillebrand, who is Chairman and CEO of Stock Yards Bank & Trust, a community bank serving Kentucky and Indiana since 1904.
An old-school type of fraud is making its way back into the mainstream.
Banks nationwide are seeing a concerning trend in the number of customers and businesses falling prey to mail and check fraud scams. Your bank’s job is to be a good neighbor, helping customers and communities meet their financial goals. Community banks take fraud seriously to protect you, but we need your help.
No prevention software, anomaly detection or behind the scenes oversight is as good as your diligence in looking out for anything that seems off about your account. Banks are ramping up alerts and working with staff to be vigilant, but the quickest way for your bank to spring into action is through active oversight by our customers.
Here are some ways to protect your accounts, and your checks.
Take checks directly to the post office or eliminate your use of physical checks entirely.
One of the simplest ways for your check to fall into the wrong hands is by putting it out in your mailbox or dropping it into one of the big blue mailboxes on the street. Criminals are taking items directly out of those boxes looking for cash, gift cards, or checks. They can alter checks made out to someone else to deposit them in their accounts or use in transactions with other people.
Use your bank’s mobile app to pay close attention to your account.
Look for numbers that don’t match checks you’ve written, any changes to who was paid or check amount, unusual login activity or anything else that doesn’t seem right.
If anything seems off, alert your bank to what you’re seeing immediately.
Bank employees are trained and ready to get involved to resolve any theft quickly. All customers have rights outlined in the terms and conditions with their bank for recovering stolen money – but they need to act quickly.
Be careful taking checks as payment.
If someone is paying you using a physical check, wait until the check has cleared before releasing any goods or services. Be wary of anyone trying to overpay and ask for cash back. It may be safer to request a wire transfer or other form of secure payment instead. Alert your bank if you believe any fraud may have taken place.
Look into modern tools for protected payment.
Businesses can use services like Positive Pay to deter check fraud by matching checks a company issues with those presented for payment. Systems like this safeguard your company against fraud, losses and other liabilities. With modern security features, digital BillPay options and consistent technology upgrades, online is often the safer way to pay.
While these schemes are happening nationwide, the U.S. Postal Service recently said mail theft complaints rose 161% during the pandemic, it’s important to know it could happen to you. Together, customers and watchful bank team members can help stop our friends and neighbors from becoming victims of fraud.