One of the most famous fraudsters ever, Frank Abagnale, offers up some tips to help consumers avoid becoming victims of check fraud. He's notorious for traveling the world and cashing $2.5 million in bad checks in the 1960. His story was the inspiration for the movie Catch Me If You Can.
On his top five list of ways to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft and check scams is writing checks sparingly. I could have told you that one! If there's no check floating around with your personal information on it, you've automatically reduced your risks. Abagnale says it's important that consumers think of their checkbooks like cash, and keep them secured at all times.
One of the easiest ways to commit check fraud is by opening the mailbox on the end of your driveway and taking out whatever is in there. Abagnale says you should only use secured mailboxes for outgoing mail. And I say that you should never put up that red flag on your box, which is the equivalent of a "steal me" sign.
Here's one you probably haven't heard of before: Find out if the IRS actually cashed your check. Apparently check thieves are fond of envelopes addressed to the IRS at tax time, because they're sure there are checks inside.
I'm a big fan of online banking. I probably write out a maximum of three checks per month. It's just so much easier to see everything online, and to be sure immediately that your payment got to where it was supposed to go. Yes, there are risks with online activities and there is the potential for your identity to be compromised there. But if you're diligent, the risks will be minimal.
Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.