Since starting my business, I’ve known that dealing with numbers and finances is probably my least favorite part of being a business owner. I also know how important it is though, so I’ve been working with a financial planner, bookkeeper and CPA for the last 4 years. I trust these people, and they’ve done a great job, so after a while, I pretty much put blinders on, assumed they had everything handled and called it a day. Spoiler alert, I was I wrong. Even though I had multiple people reviewing my transactions every month, I was the only one able to detect fraudulent activity. We’re not talking one or two charges either, this was 3 years worth of systematic fraud.
Yes, I should’ve noticed sooner, but here’s why I missed it. They were small amounts (mostly under $100) with no more than 1 or 2 occurring every month. They weren’t listed under a person’s name, they were attributed to a well known bank. I also happen to use the same bank, so seeing that bank name on my statements didn’t raise any red flags.
It wasn’t until I compared the two statements that I realized the charges weren’t mine. I’ve experienced credit card fraud before (someone skimmed my digits from a gas station), so I assumed that this was a similar situation. I thought that this was some random hacker online that somehow got access to my info. Well, I was wrong again.
After dozens of phone calls with my bank’s fraud department, my case manager told me that they had a suspect. To my horror, I knew this person, and she had obtained my information from a check that I intentionally wrote her. She worked for me as a model on multiple occasions, invited me to events and commented on my Instagram’s almost daily. She had also been systematically using my account information to withdraw funds for her own use for the last 3 years.
My bank was able to reimburse me for the transactions that occurred in the last 6 months, but the few thousand dollars that she stole from my business prior to that, was lost.
Money aside, I was more concerned that she has other victims out there, who are unaware that this is happening. I filed a report with the FTC and went to my local police station to give a statement. It turns out that I was wrong to think that our system would hold her accountable for her actions.
I was told that these cases happen all of the time and that very few end up resolved. It is usually cheaper for banks to payback the victims than to get involved with legal proceedings. Local police departments are often overwhelmed with more immediate needs and the FTC has way bigger fish to fry (people who steal millions). If you’re reading this and know of anything else that I can do, please reach out!
I may not have received justice yet, but here are a few ways that you can help to protect yourself from a similar fraudulent fate:
1. Always review your bank statements
2. Only write checks to people who you 100% trust
3. Use online payment methods wherever possible
4. If you need to write checks or provide account information for direct deposit situations, talk to your bank about setting up a “dummy” account. For an additional monthly fee, most banks will provide you with a fake account number that they will then automatically reroute into your actual account to keep your information safe.
5. Never send checks through the mail – I learned that intercepted checks is one of the most common causes of Fraud.
6. Add additional security verification levels to your online accounts. Make it harder for criminals to impersonate you by requiring additional security questions when you call your bank to make account changes
7. Shred old checks and documents containing account information.
Lastly, if we have worked together with a model, reach out to me and I will share this criminal’s information with you privately so that you can help to protect yourself.