One of Lubbock National Bank’s online services for businesses and a savvy teller helped catch a suspected forger in late July – the latest arrest of a forgery ring targeting Lubbock.
“A guy walked in and wanted to cash a check from one of our business customers who have had forgeries from this ring,” said Kim Koontz, Lubbock National Bank senior vice president.
“When this first happened we put this customer on Positive Pay. When the person came in to cash the check it didn’t match what was in our system from the customer and we got an alert,” she said.
The teller called to verify the check with the customer, said Koontz.
“The customer said they did not issue that check and we immediately called 911,” she said.
“Then police arrived and arrested him,” she said.
“We cannot praise the Lubbock Police Department enough for their quick response to our calls,” said Koontz.
Det. Todd Pringle with the Lubbock Police Department said one of the things people love about Lubbock – friendliness – may have made it easier for this gang to steal checks, forge copies and cash them at local banks.
“From what I gather, Lubbock was a hotspot because local banks are very customer friendly and their practices were considered easier” for the criminals to exploit, said Pringle.
As the ring hit banks around Lubbock in the past few months, Lubbock National Bank has realized how its Online Banking tools can help customers avoid being victimized – and they’ve learned other helpful tips to pass on.
“We want to have a friendly, hometown feel when you enter our lobby, but we go a step further to be prudent,” said Koontz. Lubbock police and postal inspectors have worked together on this – which Pringle said is a national investigation with cases elsewhere in the country.
“We caught two of the actors around June 30th in Lubbock,” said Pringle. “We caught two high-ranking guys.”
Tammy Coody, the bank’s security manager, said due to video and diligence of tellers, other lower-level members of the ring were also arrested after calls from Lubbock National Bank officials.
Koontz said, “When we visited with the postal inspector who was investigating this case, we learned some ways to avoid these issues.”
That means not putting outgoing mail in your mailbox for pickup with the flag up, said Koontz, because thieves can come by and look for a utility bill, for example, take out your check and have all the info they need.
“So it’s best to do online bill pay or hand your mail over to an actual mail clerk,” she said.
Lubbock National Bank has different Online Banking options for residents and businesses to help avoid these kind of problems.
Online Banking allows customers to view their account history in “real time.”
Customers have the ability to set up bill payments through Online Banking. Once the payments are created in Online Banking, customers can conveniently use the mobile app to send payments. Payments are processed electronically in most cases. This is a secure way to pay bills.
Business account holders should consider adding Positive Pay to their account, Koontz recommended.
Positive Pay is a cash management system used by a number of banks to help reduce incidents of check fraud. The system enables the bank to review various aspects of a check presented for payment and compare them against a supplied list of checks issued. The bank pays out each check only if the dollar amount, check number and date issued can be verified. This helps ensure that altered checks or checks issued fraudulently are not paid out.
If someone tries to cash a check before the latest checks have been uploaded by the business, they call the business.
Det. Pringle recommended businesses using drop boxes for people to drop checks need to make sure the boxes are secure or find another way to transfer checks.
“These groups would send in scouts to check out ones with drop boxes and send others to break in. They were popping open mailboxes to find paychecks and take all the info – routing numbers, account numbers and making fake checks with that info. They then recruited people to cash these fake checks,” he said.
The detective also recommended people keep an eye on their bank accounts daily.
“I check mine once a day,” he said, adding if you see something unusual, call your bank, it could lead to stopping a group like this.
Pringle said once the criminals would get a check they would create enough payroll checks to go to each branch of that bank and send people to cash them around the same time.
“Banks need to do a better job of somehow checking previous checks and check signature cards and call the owner of the account” if something doesn’t seem right, he said.
Coody said, “This is something we already do and it’s why we have been able to catch these individuals and have them arrested.”
What also made this harder, added the detective, is the forged signatures were pretty close to the originals.
Koontz said the signatures were identical – another reason to use Online Banking tools.