Know What To Do
by Brooke Blake
So our tellers and customer service representatives have received special training to help them recognize counterfeit checks and credit cards. What will they do if they actually are presented with one?
We are not in the police business, but for our common good, we have an obligation to report the felony situation to law enforcement and cooperate with them. If possible, we can do this by delaying the criminal presenter until law enforcement can arrive, if we can do so without putting our customers or our personnel into danger. Even if the criminal presenter decides to leave before the police arrive, our actions will at least allow us to be in the position to retain the counterfeit item and the identification presented - and also enable us to obtain a vehicle description and license tag.
Once law enforcement arrives, it is up to them to establish or confirm probable cause and subsequent action such as an arrest for the felony violation.
Have A Plan
Each office should have their own plan, because of the varying layouts and designs of each building. But the end result should be the same. Preplanning what to do in a fraud situation helps reduce some of the panic that normally sets in when trying to assist law enforcement to make an apprehension.
It must be emphasized this plan would only be implemented when a known, confirmed forgery or a counterfeit item is involved. (You may want to review the "Gotchas" on a previous training page.) Confirmation that a bad check is being presented may be the result of an Alert received from your security officer, or you may learn an item is fraudulent when you contact your customer to confirm. It is often a good idea to call the security officer before calling law enforcement. While this would slow down the expected police response, it often is a good control to avoid a false arrest allegation or law suit. On "hot" frauds, the security officer may give directions to call law enforcement first and then notify security. Situations such as repeat offenders, or notification by another financial institution of activity in the area, or an account on which you have already taken a loss, may trigger such directions.
It is important to note the action plan to delay and apprehend does not refer to suspicious activity involving large amounts of cash, or suspected tax evasion, or other transactions that should be reported on criminal referral forms.
What Do You Say?
If presented with a bad check, the teller, after taking a good look should say something like "I know the item is good", or "This is over my limit" or "My terminal is not working" as they leave the window or the desk to go to a preplanned out-of-view location, such as the break room, or an area off the teller line. This kind of comment may delay the "bad guy". Don't use the word 'verify'! Most criminals have learned in prison or the street that 'verify' means they should get out-FAST.
Experience has shown that the teller or CSR should not walk to an office in view of the presenter, as the presenter will often follow in "puppy dog fashion" right behind them.
Out of sight, the management person can view the item and identification and take over the contact of the customer or security or the police.
The teller, after a delay, can then return to the presenter without the item and engage the suspect in idle conversation-or even ask that the presenter have a seat in the lobby or other area. The check and/or identification are never brought back in view of the presenter, and are only released to law enforcement when they arrive. Any demands by the presenter for the check and identification to be returned are refused.
Easier Through The Drive-Up
This plan is much easier when implemented through the drive-up. A majority of stolen or counterfeit checks are presented this way. If the transaction is even suspect, and not a "Gotcha", a person can be requested to come inside for the check to be approved. If they drive off and leave the check and identification, it pretty much confirms criminal involvement!
The criminal element continually upgrades their 'street knowledge' of what they think we know about check fraud activity. They may send a person to whom they pay a percentage to be a presenter. That person may be coached not to engage in any conversation, as the professional criminal knows our tellers are trained to be cautious of a person who talks too much.
They also have been using elderly persons who they pay to be runners.
They may send in two or three persons with payroll checks from the same company who are "on their lunch break." The multiple presenters throw the tellers off their normal fraud screening methods.The legitimate customer may grumble a bit about being delayed, but will wait until the matter is resolved. The criminal presenter will often bolt and run when delayed. Feel good if that happens. You may not have caused an arrest . . . but you also have not lost any money!
J. Brooke Blake is VP and Security Training and Compliance Officer for Trust Company Bank in Atlanta GA. He is affiliated with Atlanta METROPOL; GA Association of Security Personnel; GA Association of Chiefs of Police: and an associate member of the FBI National Academy. Brooke is a frequent contributor of articles to the BANKERS' HOTLINE, and is our newest Board of Directors member.
Copyright © 1995 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 5, No. 9, 6/95
First published on 06/01/1995