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Telephone or Fax Authorizations

Question: We have a set procedure where our businesses can request a pre-authorization set up that will allow them to have specific people request by phone or FAX a wire transfer of funds. There is a call back procedure that we do with the business (not the person who requested the transfer) to authorize/confirm the request. But what do you do when a customer has gone to the sunny south for the snowy months and have found a deal they just can't pass up, and they call or FAX us requesting us to wire funds to them?

Answer: Tough question - especially in this day and age with so many cons and scams going on. Bankers' Hotline advisor John Burnett gives five good pieces of advice.

  1. Make triply sure of the identity of the caller. This could be tricky. Perhaps you should insist on finding someone who knows this individual personally in order to be absolutely positive. Using information you have on file in the way of social security numbers or drivers license numbers can be used by identity thieves. Ask for a phone number where they can be reached and then verify the address on the phone number. Also ask for the name of the bank in Florida, the location of the branch, and the name of the employee who opened the account. Don't ask for the phone number - look it up yourself (on the Internet is easiest.) Also obtain the number of the account and the transit and routing number. Verify those with a subsequent call to the bank.
  2. Have the call handled by someone at the bank who enjoys the caller's confidence. Maybe a branch employee who knows the customer well. Keep in mind that even if the customer asks for an employee by name, it is no comfort to know we put those names right on the desks in the branch office.
  3. Have the employee contact quiz the customer a little about the "deal" to see if there are any tell-tale red flags. In particular, if customer is easily confused or is known as an easy "mark" for scams, be on the alert. Remember, if you wire funds for a Nigerian scam or a lottery winning con you will wind up the "bad guy" for allowing your customer to become a victim. Don't be afraid to protect your depositors.
  4. Is there anyone else on the account who needs to know what's happening here? For instance, if Mom or Dad are perhaps being taken advantage of, is a son or daughter joint or power of attorney on the account who can get involved?
  5. Make sure the customer has an account established in Florida, and don't hesitate to call and talk to the branch employee who opened his or her account there. They are accustomed to dealing with seniors and may have a better insight into what is going on. Verify the information given to you by your customer in the way of account numbers and transit codes.
  6. 6. If, after all this, you are perfectly comfortable with all the above - wire the funds.

Copyright © 2005 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 15, No. 12, 12/05

First published on 12/01/2005

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