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Dave Oldenburg

By Dave Oldenburg, fraud officer, Bank First, Watertown and member of the WBA Financial Crimes Committee

Business check cashing fraud, dubbed “operation homeless” by law enforcement, continues to impact our industry. Furthermore, it can negatively affect customer perception when fraudulent “on-us” checks are cashed at your bank.

Although there are many kinds of check fraud schemes, business check cashing fraud begins when a customer’s legitimate business checks are taken from commercial mailboxes. Often times, the compromise occurs when a customer’s outgoing mail or the recipient’s mailbox is breached. These mailboxes are often unsecured — making them an ideal target to steal checks. Once the checks are stolen, the ringleader produces quality counterfeit checks that closely resemble the features of legitimate checks. In this type of fraud, the intent is to cash as many checks as possible at numerous bank branches — sometimes pocketing tens of thousands in just one day.

The ringleader creates the checks, but recruits individuals (mules) to cash the checks if they have current and valid identification. In turn, the mules receive a small portion each time a check is paid out. In an organized fashion, these criminals travel around the state with counterfeit items, drawn on many accounts from different banks.

Fortunately, there are ways to stop fraud in its tracks. Here are some suggested “best practices” for front-line staff:

  • Compare the check to recently cleared checks as well as the signature card on file.
  • Looks for signs of traced, forged, or scanned signatures that appear irregular.
  • The current check range on recently cleared items may be considered — however a counterfeit check is often in the current range.
  • Look for recently issued identification (sometimes mules will obtain identification for the sole purpose of committing check fraud).
  • Refuse to cash the check when presented with worn or damaged identification that omits information.
  • Refuse identification that doesn’t appear to match the individual presenting the check.

Be aware of some common “red flags” that may be indicators of business check cashing fraud such as:

  • The branch location is “out of the way” from the non-customer’s address listed on the check or listed on the identification presented.
  • The person presenting the check came to the branch on foot or was dropped off.
  • The person presenting the check appears anxious, rushed, or overly chatty or name drops.
  • The person is in contact with someone on their mobile phone while the transaction is being performed.

To help mitigate your institution’s risk of loss, it is recommended that checks presented by non-customers be handled with additional scrutiny. Most importantly, if the maker of the check does not have positive pay services, consider adopting procedures where an authorized signer is contacted to validate checks over a certain dollar amount.

By Scott Birrenkott

The Wisconsin Bankers Association has provided a resource to assist homeowners with questions regarding options as forbearance periods end and the pandemic still lingers. Generally, there are a few ways borrowers can make up their missed payments. However, the method of repayment can vary depending on the loan. Not all borrowers will be eligible for all options. Borrowers are encouraged to ask their servicer about available options.

Download: Assistance for Homeowners in Forbearance

 

7 Tips To Build Good Financial Habits

The Wisconsin Bankers Association offers for your use the following consumer education column. Your bank is free to use this as a community column in your local newspaper, a letter to the editor, a press release or in any other way you see fit. The purpose is to give our members an easy-to-use tool for promoting the banking industry to Wisconsin's communities.

 

Tax season is here, which means you might be deciding between filing yourself or seeking out a professional. However, taxes aren't the only reason to seek out financial advice. An overwhelming majority of U.S. adults do not seek out professional financial advice, while you might not need professional help to create a family budget, expert advice can make the road to retirement, investing, or saving for college much smoother. Check out these common reasons people avoid getting professional financial advice and how to overcome them. 

I'm not rich, so I don't need a professional. 
Achieving financial security requires serious planning, professional help, and strong discipline over a long period of time, no matter what your net worth is. An expert financial planner can help you assess your current situation and help you determine how to reach your goals by building a realistic, comprehensive plan. They can also provide an objective perspective to stressful, emotional decisions, such as what to do with an inheritance. Most importantly, a professional financial advisor will work for you and with you to help you follow your plan by tracking your progress and adjusting your plan if necessary. 

I don't know what questions to ask.
That doesn't matter because you'll start by answering questions, not asking them. A good financial planner will start the relationship by getting to know you and your goals, so they'll be the ones asking questions during your first meeting or two. After that, they will use that profile to guide you in the right direction. The one question you should ask before hiring a financial planner is: How are you paid and what are your fees? Make sure you understand exactly how much you'll be charged for their advice before deciding if that planner is right for you. 

I can't tell if I'm getting good advice. 
It's good to approach financial advice with a healthy level of skepticism, but there are some assurances you can look for to help you verify that your advisor really is working in your best interests. First, check that they are licensed by the State, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), or the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board). You should also verify that your financial planner is acting in an official fiduciary capacity, meaning they are legally obligated to act in your best interests. The U.S. Department of Labor has a list of questions to ask available on their website.

If you have questions about how to find a financial advisor, talk to your local banker about their financial planning and wealth management services.

An archive of Consumer Columns is available online at www.wisbank.com/ConsumerColumns.

Visit MyMazuma for the latest financial education resources for consumers.

By, Amber Seitz

The Wisconsin Bankers Association offers for your use the following consumer education column. Your bank is free to use this as a community column in your local newspaper, a letter to the editor, a press release or in any other way you see fit. The purpose is to give our members an easy-to-use tool for promoting the banking industry to Wisconsin’s communities.

New Year, New Me, right? We’re a few weeks into the new year and you may have dropped your New Year’s Resolution to become financially fit. Don’t despair. It’s still early in the new year and a great time to clean up your financials, adopt better spending habits, and start saving more. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Make a budget and stick with it
This almost cliché financial advice is repeated so often for one important reason: it works. Start by tracking your spending, once you’ve tracked how much money you spend over the course of a few weeks, you can look for trends in what you’re spending. These trends help you start planning on how much income goes towards necessities (like rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries), and see areas where you can cut back (rarely-used subscription services, eating out less) and start putting away a portion of your income towards a savings goal. The most important part of a budget is sticking with it, once you start tracking your spending you should make sure to take time every day or every few days to log your spending and compare that to your planned spending.

Deal with any debt
Debt is an extremely stressful thing to deal with but the new year is a time to get a handle on any debt that may have piled up around the holidays. Debt should be something factored into your budget like your electric bill and tracked. Although it may be daunting, contact your creditors to discuss your situation, they may be willing to work with you to put together a repayment plan. If you're carrying debt on multiple credit cards, talk to your local bank about the possibility of consolidating that debt into a single payment so you can close the extra card accounts. No matter what you do, addressing debt instead of ignoring it will help you get a handle on it and make positive progress.

Shop around
Many times people will stick with whatever they find first, be it their internet provider, car insurance, or brand of soup, but that may not be the best deal, especially a few years down the line. There’s nothing wrong with being loyal to a company but just because they’ve been your cable provider for a few years isn’t necessarily a good reason to stay with them and doesn’t ensure that you are getting the best value for what you are paying. Look around to see what other companies are charging for similar services, you may find that your current company is priced competitively or you may find that you can get a better deal elsewhere. One thing to beware of is a cheaper product or service that is cheaper for a reason, make sure you are still getting a similar quality or ask yourself if you are ok with a downgrade.
Making a commitment to financial health and wellness can be a great way to start the New Year on good footing that can last throughout the year and your life.   

An archive of Consumer Columns is available online at www.wisbank.com/ConsumerColumns

By, Eric Skrum

The Wisconsin Bankers Association offers for your use the following consumer education column. Your bank is free to use this as a community column in your local newspaper, a letter to the editor, a press release or in any other way you see fit. The purpose is to give our members an easy-to-use tool for promoting the banking industry to Wisconsin's communities.

Identity theft is on the top of many consumers' minds these days, with new data breaches announced seemingly weekly. As masses of Americans turn to credit monitoring, fraud alerts, and other solutions to prevent their identities from being stolen, one group sometimes slips through the cracks: children. Parents: don't forget that your child has a social security number, so their identity could be stolen and used to take out fraudulent loans that could damage their ability to buy a car, get student loans, rent an apartment, or even get a job in the future. Below are some steps to consider to help protect your children from ID theft: 

Watch for red flags.
First, keep an eye out for common signs that your child's identity has been used to obtain credit. These include an influx of mailed credit card and/or loan offers addressed to your child, a notice from the IRS that your child didn't pay income tax or was claimed as a dependent, and collections calls for bills addressed to your child. When your child gets older, being denied a bank account, driver's license, or government benefits (such as Medicaid) are also indications that their identity may have been stolen. 

Check your child's credit report.
The next step to take is similar to what you would do to protect your own identity: check their credit report. It's a bit more complex when the credit report you're requesting is your child's (versus your own), but it is an important step. Contact the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to find out the specific documentation they require. You'll likely need to mail in copies of your child's birth certificate and/or their Social Security card, as well as a copy of your own ID. Keep in mind that your child may not have a credit report-and that's a good thing! It means your child's identity has not been used by criminals to obtain credit in their name. 

Consider a credit freeze.
If you find that your child has a credit report, consider placing a freeze on it. This is especially important to consider if your child's identity has been stolen, since it will help prevent future instances of their information being used to obtain credit. Wisconsin's Child Credit Protection Act allows parents and legal guardians to place a freeze on their child's credit record. By freezing their credit with each of the major credit bureaus, you will prevent criminals from taking out credit using your child's identity. Each credit bureau has a different process for freezing credit, so contact them to find out the steps if you are interest in a credit freeze for your child(ren). Keep in mind, the bureaus charge a fee to freeze and unfreeze credit, so you'll want to consider how close your child is to legitimate credit requests (such as student loans or a first credit card) before taking this step. 

If you suspect your child's identity has been stolen, visit www.identitytheft.gov for step-by-step guidance on what to do next. 

An archive of Consumer Columns is available online at www.wisbank.com/ConsumerColumns.

By, Amber Seitz

'Tis the season for holiday shopping. Black Friday is just around the corner, not to mention the gifts, family meals and decorations all put a strain on your wallet. Creating a holiday budget and sticking to it can help keep you on track. Here are some budgeting tips for the busiest shopping season of the year.

Make a List and Check it Twice
Creating an effective holiday budget means including everything you plan to spend. Budget for decorating, new outfits you plan to buy, food estimates, and travel costs alongside the gifts on your expense list. Be sure to include any money you plan to receive, too. Does grandma give you $50 every year like clockwork? Include that in your calculations. Will you be buying a joint gift and then receiving cash from the others going in on it? Include that, too. The best budgets encompass all of the spending and saving you do throughout the holidays, not just how much you spend on gifts. If you're not sure where to start, look up what you spent last year as a good jumping-off point.

Keep Track
The most important key to remember with your budget is to not forget about it after you create it. Keep track of all the purchases you make, especially ones made with cash, and adjust your budget if need be. It is a good idea to hold a weekly "reckoning" meeting, especially if you're not the only one making the purchases for the year. Sit down and check your real spending against your planned spending (the budget). If you've gone over in one area, these meetings give you the chance to adjust by lowering the amount set aside for another area to make up the difference. That way you'll keep your overall spending on track.

Save your Budget
After the holidays, don't throw away this year's holiday budget. Save it and use it as a model for next year's shopping. Make notes of where you deviated from the original budget, so that next year's is more accurate. You can also use the gift lists from year to year. If you know well in advance what items you want to buy, you can shop for them during the season when they're cheapest, rather than during the holidays.

Setting and sticking with a holiday budget will help you enter the New Year without any added financial stress, making the holidays that much more enjoyable

By, Amber Seitz

The Wisconsin Bankers Association offers the following consumer education column for your use. Your bank is free to use this as a community column in your local newspaper, a letter to the editor, a press release or in any other way you see fit. The purpose is to give our members an easy-to-use tool for promoting the banking industry to Wisconsin’s communities. 

Your credit score affects many aspects of your life, including making large purchases, obtaining loans, renting an apartment and even applying for a job! Do you know your current credit score? When was the last time you checked your credit report? Here are a few simple steps you can take to help improve your credit score and keep it working for you, not against you.

Monitor Your Debt Ratio

One of the major factors in your credit score is how much revolving credit you have versus how much you're actually using. The smaller that percentage is, the better it is for your credit rating. It's best to keep your debt-to-credit ratio 30 percent or lower. Since credit card debt is one of the easiest types of debt to accrue, it's best to monitor your combined balance closely to ensure you don't push your ratio up too high. Other types of debt like home equity loans and auto loans are less easily obtained and much more consistent. You don’t need to monitor those as closely, but research before those major purchases is much more important.

Don’t Avoid All Debt

One common misconception among consumers is that any debt on your credit report is bad, which is not entirely true. Good debt – debt that you handled well by making on-time payments – is good for your credit score because it shows that you are a reliable borrower. This is especially true if it’s old debt, because it extends your credit history. So don’t call the reporting agency to remove that car loan from your credit report as soon as you pay off the vehicle. Leave old debt and good accounts on your credit history for as long as possible. This is also why you should keep your oldest credit cards active, even if you don’t use them very often. Cancelling a credit card that you’ve had for a long time will shorten your credit history, which could negatively impact your overall credit score.

Check Your Report and Dispute Errors

Finally, be sure to check your credit report for errors. Look for new accounts that you didn’t open and large purchases you didn’t make, as these not only hurt your credit score, they can be signs of fraud or identity theft. You're entitled to one free copy of each of your three credit bureau reports (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com. It's a good idea to stagger each of the three reports throughout the year. Request one every four months, and you can monitor your credit for free all year. If you find an inaccuracy, you should dispute it immediately by following the instructions on the bureau’s report.

By, Amber Seitz