Safety in Numbers

by Tom Schlink
Hickory Point Bank

Distractions are part of daily life. Whether it’s a child interrupting you while watching the big game, scanning the latest political hot buttons on social media, or slamming on the brakes right before it’s too late, distractions are with us every day.

As I have hit the 50-year mark, I hear myself reciting my mother’s favorite quote: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Important things somehow get pushed to the back of the line. Good intentions become just that: good intentions. Together, distractions and good intentions keep us from doing what we know we should be doing.

One area that we cannot afford to be distracted by is fraud. As a banker, I have heard too many stories of both personal identity theft and corporate checking account fraud. As violent crimes nationwide have been reduced to decades-low levels, their numbers have been replaced by cybercrimes, which are often difficult to detect and more difficult to trace. Individuals spend hours trying to find credit card and account numbers. Business owners spend precious time researching which check might have been stolen.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 17.6 million Americans were victims of personal identity theft in 2014. That’s nearly seven percent of the adult U.S. population! Consumers typically hear about fraud from their financial institution. While many of these thefts can be cured in as little as one day through a call to the credit card company, more serious theft can take months or years to correct.

That’s where the twins of distraction and good intentions enter the picture. We may know what actions to take to protect us, such as shredding documents containing personal information, creating difficult passwords and reviewing an annual credit report. (A free copy can be obtained at annualcreditreport.com.) Unfortunately, the day-to-day distractions seem to be more important. We let those distractions and good intentions take over until it’s too late.

As an individual, a good line of defense is to be aware. Use personal identification numbers (PIN) at ATM machines only. Run any other transactions as credit, and keep receipts of transactions. Call your bank to sign up for transaction alerts, and ask what they are doing to protect your accounts.

For business owners, the stakes are even higher. Although typically more complex, banks have several products that work to keep money safe, and there are many things business owners can do to protect company assets. Having stringent dual-control policies is an often overlooked tool to keep things safe. Contact your banker and ask to discuss a controlled disbursement account or to set up Positive Pay. These are great tools to protect your business account from fraud. As we begin our annual rite of preparing tax returns by compiling mountains of data—whether as individuals, business owners or financial representatives—we look back at how hard we worked during the past year. Make it a habit to also do a check-up on your accounts, whether personal or corporate. Don’t let distractions and good intentions play into the pockets of thieves. iBi

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