Banks Stepping Up to Fight Fraud

November 16, 2006--Posted at 5:45 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR--With the tremendous growth of the debit card, it may come as a surprise to find out that checks remain by far the most used form of non-cash payment. In any industry there is a fight to get ahead of the curve and the world of scams is no different.

"As we come up with ways to deter them, they are coming up with ways to outsmart that," said Heritage Bank Vice President of Operations Jill Lawson.

Whether it is credit cards, checks or old fashioned currency, it is becoming harder to detect a fake.

"You can look at the stuff we have gotten back and it looks almost real. I have been in banking for 22 years and they look real to me," said Lawson.

Heritage Bank has seen customers enter its bank with counterfeit currency and checks from the next get rich scheme.

"If it is too good to be true it probably is. The letters people are getting saying they won a sweepstakes, if you haven't entered one you probably didn't win it," said Lawson.

The customer receives a check from the sweepstakes scam then deposits it in the bank. They send a portion back to the scammer. That's when the check comes up counterfeit and the bank customer is forced to pick up the cost of the check.

"They get money out of savings. They have to mortgage their house, they have to do everything they can to cover what they sent off," said Lawson.

However, the banks are fighting back.

"They are making strides to make counterfeit as hard as can be," said Lawson.

Heritage Bank is using a new machine called the Fraud Fighter. It can run checks and traveler's checks in less than three seconds and determine if they are fake. It also scans currency, which passes other tests, to make sure you don't have any funny money.

In addition the machine can also pick out money that has been altered. If you put an altered bill under the machine it looks the same as a five dollar bill. Meaning they have actually bleached the bill and put a hundred dollar printing on top of it.

The fraud fighter can also detect fake driver's license and counterfeit credit cards.

According to the latest survey from the American Bankers Association, community banks have seen the greatest increase in check fraud. In 1997, 49% of banks reported losses due to check fraud. In 2003, that number increased to 72%.