Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Hosts Bank Security Round Table to Address Check Fraud in the Albany Area

Staff Report

Wednesday, August 16th, 2023

The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Monday hosted a roundtable discussion with financial institutions and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors on the check fraud security challenges that impact commerce and citizens and which in 2023 are estimated to have a $24 billion national economic impact. Locally, losses are estimated to be in the millions. 

According to the Financial Crime Enforcement Network, a division of the U.S. Treasury Department, reports of check fraud filed by banks nearly doubled to 680,000, from 350,000 in 2021. This compares to 96,786 suspicious activity check fraud cases reported in 2014. 

“The banking sector is crucial to the modern economy. As the primary supplier of credit, banks support business development through access to capital; facilitate personal growth through smart lending; and are a key partner in community development initiatives,” said Bárbara Rivera Holmes, president & CEO of the Albany Area Chamber and its 501©3 affiliate, the Albany Area Chamber Foundation. “The fraud and security challenges faced today by financial institutions touch every segment of commerce, every organization and every citizen; these are not victimless crimes. The Albany Area Chamber is committed to working with banks, law enforcement, prosecutors and policy makers to elevate the conversation, educate the public and advance solutions.” 

Monday’s Albany Bank Security Roundtable included Chamber-member financial institutions, the Georgia Bankers Association and the Community Bankers Association along with representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Attorney General for the Middle District of Georgia; the United States Postal Inspector Service; the Office of the Georgia Attorney General; and the Albany Police Department. 

“Today marks a significant stride forward as the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, local banks and law enforcement join forces to tackle the growing specter of check and mail fraud. Our Albany Area Chamber, representing the backbone of our local economy, recognizes our challenges require innovative and unified solutions and fostering partnerships based on trust and resilience,” said Perry Revell, chairman of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and CEO of AB&T. “Today's collaborative gathering holds a promise that extends beyond mitigation, encompassing prevention, economic stability and advocacy. I thank each participant for their willingness to engage and be part of the solution.” 

Among other challenges, the increase in suspected fraud cases is creating many check fraud processing challenges such as backlogs in check warranty claims, availability of funds and the average check value doubling over the last decade. Further, reports indicate that mail theft has been on the rise since 2017. A recent survey of Chamber-member financial institutions revealed that mail-related check fraud is their number one security concern, followed by general check fraud and physical security. 

“Albany’s bank leaders shared fraud losses estimated to be in the millions annually, a disturbing trend seen nationwide. Bank fraud is not a victimless crime; far from it,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary for the Middle District of Georgia, who participated in Monday’s roundtable. “These losses are rarely recouped, and these criminals steal legitimate opportunities for positive investment in the community, costing citizens new home mortgages and businesses the means for new development. Law enforcement at every level is dedicated to effectively combating these scams that harm the entire community.” 

According to the Association for Financial Professionals, 42 percent of all business2business transactions are still paper. 

“Check fraud is old fashioned, but it is what is causing so many problems in our community. It’s affecting young people, senior citizens, merchants, the banking industry and beyond,” noted Joe Brannen, CEO of Georgia Banker’s Association. “Finding ways to solve that is going to be complicated but we won’t ever be able to do that if we don’t work together through organizations like the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce at discussions like this one.” 

In February, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, in collaboration with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the post office, issued an alert on the matter. The service said it received more than 299,000 complaints of mail theft from March 2020 through February 2021, a 161 percent increase from a year earlier. 

Justin Warner with the United States Postal Service Inspection Service said, “This community roundtable is a great example of partnerships between multiple agencies which includes banks, law enforcement, local organizations and prosecutors that have come together for vital information sharing for investigations and provide resources to local citizens. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service mission is to ensure public trust in the mail and postal inspectors will aggressively investigate individuals that seek to take advantage of our customers. We also work with the Postal Service to harden security measures against criminal attacks.” 

Monday’s discussion provided an opportunity for local banking institutions to share best practices and to share their challenges with law enforcement at all levels. Participants also noted the need for increased merchant and consumer education. 

“Check fraud is very rampant in our banks right now,” said Kelly Wilson, Anti-Money Laundering Fraud Officer with Colony Bank. “We are needing to do a lot more communication with our customers about how important it is to not mail checks so that we can avoid the risk of them being stolen. We also want to provide more scam education. Not only that, we want to make sure that we are working with our law enforcement. I feel like this is the new way that people are making money illegally and it’s important that we make sure that our lines of communication with law enforcement are open so that we can work together to stop this.” 

Detective Darryl Jones with the Albany Police Department said that “conversations like this are important because we get to connect with people from different fields. It's imperative that we have banks, law enforcement, prosecutors and more all in one room so that there can be a collaborative effort on how to combat fraud in our city. Conversations like [Monday’s] allow us to have questions answered that we would not have the opportunity to anywhere else. It’s great to get to come together and think of ways to resolve this problem.” 

Experts emphasized the urgency of citizens and businesses reporting suspected fraud to their banking institutions as soon as possible to potentially stop a fraudulent payment and prevent theft. Beyond curbing the initial crime, rapid reporting is the fastest way to make a dent in these significant loss numbers, they said. 

The Albany Area Chamber will continue working with these partners on the alarming issue.