Why is Check Fraud Easier Today?
There are few security experts with the experience of Frank Abagnale. At age 16, Abagnale began to forge checks and con his way around the world. He had (and still has) a sharp eye for details, enabling him to steal millions of dollars. In his travels he impersonated airline pilots and a doctor, taught a university class and claimed to be a lawyer. On his third attempt, he passed the Louisiana bar examination, though he had never attended law school. During his criminal days, Abagnale had many encounters with police, FBI agents and law enforcement officials. He talked his way out of these situations.
Abagnale was more than just a talented counterfeiter, he was skilled at playing a role and convincing others of his authenticity. This explains why Abagnale was able to cash so many fraudulent checks. He claimed his early forgeries never looked very authentic, but Abagnale was so convincing in the roles he played that no one questioned the authenticity of his documents. He said that his initial impersonation as an airline pilot only served to allow him to cash his false checks.
Today, such convincing personas are unnecessary, Abagnale explained. Years ago, bank tellers were trained and valued employees. Now, banks do not spend considerable time training teller level employees. Many tellers are only part time workers without vested interest in the bank’s future. As a result, many tellers pay little attention to the checks they cash.
Technology has made the creation of a false check simple. With an off-the-shelf computer and printer, one can create near-perfect replicas of checks. As Abagnale said, where once a forger needed a cool head, quick wit and charming personality, modern criminals can approach a teller looking and acting like a criminal because the false check is so convincing. Reductions in penalties also make forgery appealing to modern criminals. Abagnale said only two percent of counterfeiters are prosecuted. This stems from a perception that fraud is not dangerous. Those that are prosecuted often serve no jail time because jails are overcrowded with more serious offenders. Few cases of fraud are investigated because many banks consider fraud a cost of doing business.