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Cheque thefts increasing

The old excuse that “the cheque got lost in the post” might not be as far fetched as it used to be. Intercepting and stealing cheques sent in the mail is becoming increasingly common as thieves get more brazen an help themselves to our hard earned cash.

This was the experience of one Fairmount resident, who is several thousands of rands down, following the theft of one of her cheques.

“Cheques are easy targets for fraud scams.” warns the resident who asked not to be named.

“My cheque made out to the City Treasurer – to the value of over R4 000 – was intercepted and the payee’s name was substituted with the name Alfred Matloane.  One can see where it was changed, as the forgery was clumsily done.”

The cheques was reportedly deposited into an ATM and the cash later withdrawn from a machine.

Manager of customer services at Standard Bank, Viv Roos, says systems used by fraudsters nowadays are so sophisticated that it is sometimes very difficult to detect fraud.

“Forged cheques are usually paid into ATM’s in faraway places and then go into an account somewhere else. This tactic lengthens the time it takes for banks to detect that something is wrong and to get the cheque back.” says Mr. Roos.

“We can’t be sure where cheques are intercepted but it is fairly easy for cheques addressed to the City Treasurer to be opened at the post office and there have been a number of fraud cases regarding cheques made out to the Receiver of Revenue.

“Criminals chemically change the payee’s name and sometimes even the amount. They also use scanning to print out new cheques, with the same cheques number but different payee names,” explains Mr. Roos.

Detective Sergeant, Jacob Hlatswayo, of the fraud unit at John Vorster Square confirmed the wide occurrence of cheque fraud.

“We have many people coming in to complain about forged cheques. Usually cheques to the value of R3 000 to R4 000 are forged. Normally fraud scams cannot be stopped unless the person is apprehended while processing the cheque. It is in fact very difficult to apprehend a forged cheque as criminals nowadays are so clever – we usually discover the fraud only after two or three months.

“But we do advise people to check there bank statements every two or three days to make sure nothing is wrong and if stolen cheques are recovered, they should be kept in a safe place so finger print tracing can be done.”

Mr. Roos said banks around the country are warning the public to be aware of what is happening and to protect themselves from falling victim to this kind of fraud.

“Cheque users should not leave spaces between words and letters.  Write as close as possible to where the cheque says ‘name of payee’ and draw a double line through the remaining space on the line. Do the same after you have entered the amount. Never use a felt tipped pen on cheques – use a ballpoint pen and press hard so that you make an impression on the cheque,” said Mr. Roos.

While certain corporations are reportedly putting Sellotape over the payee’s name, this has not yet officially been permitted in South Africa. Mr. Roos cautions that this method still needs to be properly developed as it could cause certain problems.

“People should use the safer method of electronic account payment.” While we are developing new forgery detection systems all the time and have prevented many forgery scams, people must never the less take care not to leave any gap for criminals,” warns Mr. Roos.

North Eastern Tribune 21st Nov. Vol. 25 No.47


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