How to Steal Money with Altered Check Payees

This simple fraud occurs all too often

Some fraudsters steal money with altered check payees.

As a kid I once threw a match in a half-gallon of gasoline—just to see what would happen. I quickly found out. In a panic, I kicked the gas container—a plastic milk jug—several times, thinking this would somehow kill the fire. But just the opposite happened. And when my father found out, something else was on fire.

Some accounting weaknesses create unintended consequences. Show me an accounting clerk who (1) can sign checks (whether by hand, with a signature stamp, or with a computer-generated signature), (2) posts transactions to the accounting system, and (3) reconciles the bank account, and I will show you another combustible situation. Here’s how one city clerk created her own blaze.

Altered Check Example

Using the city’s signature stamp, the clerk signed handwritten checks made out to herself; however, when the payee name was entered into the general ledger (with a journal entry), another name was used—usually that of a legitimate vendor.

How to steal money with altered check payees

For example, Susie, the clerk, created manual checks made out to herself and signed them with the signature stamp. But the check payee was entered into the accounting system as Macon Hardware (for example). Also, she allocated the disbursements to accounts with sufficient remaining budgetary balances. The subterfuge worked as the expense accounts reflected appropriate vendor activity and expenses stayed within the budgetary appropriations. No red flags.

The accounting clerk, when confronted with evidence of her deception, responded, “I don’t know why I did it, I didn’t need the money.” We do a disservice to accounting employees when we make it so easy to steal. Given human nature, we should do what we can to limit the temptation.

How?

Controls to Lessen Check Fraud

First, if possible, segregate the disbursement duties so that only one person performs each of the following:

• Creating checks
• Signing checks
• Reconciling bank statements
• Entering checks into the general ledger

If you can’t segregate duties, have someone (the Mayor, a non-accounting employee, or an outside CPA) review cleared checks for appropriateness.

Secondly, have a second person approve all journal entries. False journal entries can used to hide theft. With sleight of hand, the city clerk made improper journal entries such as:

                                                Dr.                 Cr.

Supply Expense              $5,234

Cash                                                        $5,234

 

The check was made out to Susie, but the transaction was, in this example, coded as a supply expense paid to Macon Hardware. You can lessen the risk of fraud by preventing improper journal entries.

Thirdly, restrict access to check stock. It’s wise to keep blank check stock locked up until needed.

Finally, limit who can sign checks, and deep-six the signature stamp.

A Fraud Test for Auditors

Here’s a word to external auditors looking for a fraud test idea (or those just looking for check fraud): Consider testing a random sample of cleared checks by agreeing them to related invoices.

Work from the cleared check to the invoice. It is best for the auditor to pull the invoices from the invoice file; if you ask someone in accounting to pull the invoices, that person might create fictitious invoices to support your list (not hard to do these days). If the payee has been altered, you will, in many cases, not find a corresponding invoice. Pay particular attention to checks with company employees on the payee line.

Click here for more white-collar crime examples.

Seven Ways to Feed Evernote

How to store forms, research, articles, sample financial statements

Do you find yourself overwhelmed with information? Today I show you seven ways to feed Evernote, a cloud-based storage application. You’ll soon be on your way to gaining control over your information overload.

Seven ways to feed Evernote

Evernote as a Solution to Information Overload

Maybe you spend several hours researching interest rate swaps and file the information away, but months later–at the very time you need it–the material vanishes. You spend 20 minutes searching through your computer folders, but you can’t find it.  (Where did you put it? You know you filed it away.) The result: You spend three more hours doing the same research–again. What a waste!

Wouldn’t it be nice to have your own personal electronic library? That way, all of your research, sample financial statements, forms, professional articles, expense reports, meeting notes, screenshots, etc. are all in one place–and accessible with search features. Such a place exists. It’s called Evernote. I previously provided an overview of Evernote that you can see here. Once you create your Evernote account, you can do the following.

First Set Up Your Default Evernote Notebook

Before sending information from one of your devices (e.g., smartphone) to Evernote, specify where it should go. My default landing area: To Be Filed notebook. (You will need to create the To Be Filed notebook in your Evernote account.)

Setting Default Folder

Since I send information from a variety of devices, I initially send information to the To Be Filed notebook; later, when I have time, I tag each note (e.g., Fair Value) and then move each to an appropriate notebook (e.g., Accounting).

Tip – If you put an asterisk in front of the folder name (e.g., *To Be Filed), Evernote will present it (the folder) at the top of your folder list. This will make it easier to locate your default folder.

In short, my standard operating procedure: (1) capture on the fly and (2) classify with a block of time (it usually takes me less than five minutes each day to tag and move the new notes).

Seven Ways to Feed Evernote

1. Smart Phones

You can use your smartphone to create and send pictures, text files, and voice messages to Evernote.

To download Evernote for an Android phone, click here.

iPhone users should download the Evernote app.

Here’s a screenshot of my iPhone Evernote app.

iPhone evernote

2. Scanners

I use a Fujitsu scanner (model iX500) to scan documents directly to Evernote. (The iX500 costs about $400 from Amazon.)

scanner

3. Web Clippers

Evernote provides web clippers for browsers including Safari, Explorer, Google Chrome, and Firefox. If you click this web clipper link, Evernote will automatically recognize your browser; then download the clipper software to your browser. While browsing, click the Elephant icon to clip a portion of the web page, the full page, or the full article.

Clippers

4. Hotkeys

Evernote allows you to use hotkeys to capture information from any program (as long as Evernote is running in the background). To activate screen clipping, use the key combination (e.g., for Windows: Win+PrintScreen). See Preferences to change your hotkeys.

So if you are working on an Excel spreadsheet, for example, and would like to capture the information into Evernote, use the hotkey combination and select the portion of the screen you wish to save. The screenshot will go to your default Evernote location.

You can do the same with an email, a Word document, and anything else that appears on your screen.

5. Email Directly to Evernote Account

One of my favorite ways to feed Evernote is to email a document (e.g., Excel, Word, PDF) directly to Evernote; when you set up your Evernote account, you will be provided a private Evernote email address. Set this address up in your email contact list; then you can send any email or document (attached to an email) to your Evernote default notebook.

6. Drag and Drop

With Evernote open, you can create a new note and then drag a document (e.g., Word or Excel file) onto the open note. The material is added to the note. You can add multiple documents to one note.

7. Import Folder

An even easier way to get files into Evernote is to use an “import folder.” After you specify in Evernote where the “import folder” is located on your computer (i.e., a particular Windows folder), you can drop files into the designated folder, and they will automatically feed into your default Evernote notebook. (Note–Import folders are only available in Windows.)

What About You?

How do you feed Evernote? Are there other ways to feed Evernote that I have not mentioned?