By Dave Oldenburg
Financial institutions have reported incidents where a new or seasoned customer is instructed to open an IRA account, with a fake check, disguised as a rollover. Criminals who orchestrate these crimes hope that front lines staff will be fooled into believing that IRA accounts are not typically associated with fraud. Unfortunately, this type of fake check scam has gained traction and has the potential to inflict substantial losses when not detected early. Although some account holders are aware that they are negotiating a fake check, others do not realize that they are being manipulated as part of a relationship or similar fraud scheme.
How Does the Scam Work?
Similar to other fake check schemes, the purpose is to falsely inflate the balance of an account and withdraw funds as quickly as possible. Funds are often transferred internally, followed by outgoing wires, BillPay, or other electronic payment methods, before the check is returned unpaid.
How Do I Spot a Fake IRA Check Scheme?
It is important to note that criminals generally use accurate information from compromised accounts such as a bank’s ABA, account number, and approximate check range to create and distribute the checks. Some may go further and use convincing check stock, bearing a quality signature of an authorized signer to increase the likelihood that the check will be negotiated.
With that in mind, it’s important to recognize common red flag indicators associated with this type of fraud:
- The check is made payable to an individual. As a rule of thumb, legitimate Traditional and Roth IRA rollover checks are generally made payable to the financial institution, for benefit of (FBO) the account holder
- The check doesn’t appear to be drawn on a qualified retirement plan. Many fake checks are drawn on a law firm, cashier’s check or what appears to be a general business operating account.
- The check is sent directly to the branch by an unknown third party with instructions to deposit the check into a new or existing IRA
- A memo line with vague instructions to deposit the check into an IRA account
- The customer seems concerned when funds will be made available
- The account holder wants to disburse funds shortly after the account was opened
When in doubt, it’s best not to accept the check and follow your bank’s procedures on suspicious account activity.
Oldenburg is a fraud officer, Bank First, Manitowoc and member of the WBA Financial Crimes Committee.