Frank Abagnale, whose past as a thief is the subject of the film Catch Me If You Can, now is a security consultant who provides services to Bank of America.
He spoke at the bank's dinner for car dealer clients during the recent National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) convention in San Francisco. Many of the following security tips and recommendations he offered in an interview are applicable to tire dealers and other businesses, as well.
What is the top mistake that business owners make that allows them to become fraud victims?
``Whenever I go to investigate these crimes, I find most of the time the dealer hires a bookkeeper and allows them to write checks and leave them out on the desk for the dealer to sign them. The bookkeeper earns the dealer's trust, and the dealer says, `From now on, you just sign the checks.'
``Then, even though the bank statements are addressed to the dealer, the bookkeeper is allowed to open them and reconcile them. The bookkeeper writes and signs the checks and receives the checking account statements. If you don't segregate those duties, you leave yourself open to theft.
``I have never met anyone who said they hired a bookkeeper six months ago, and they were suddenly stealing this money. It's always a long-term, trusted employee.''
Why is identity theft rampant?
``We give away so much information. If you cash a $50 check, it has your name, address and phone number, as well as the bank's name, address and routing number, your account number and your signature.
``There is enough information on the front of that check to go draft on your account. Then all the thief needs to see is the driver's license. In 12 states now, the driver's license number is the Social Security number. The thief writes that down as well as the date of birth. If he can get your work number, he will know where you work.
``All this information is sold today. Only amateurs hack into computers. Professional criminals `hack' people.
``A hotel clerk takes a credit card reservation guarantee and asks to see a driver's license, saying it's the hotel's policy. All these people in the hotel look at this database, and they are paid minimum wage. All I have to do is tell them, `Write down the information for me, and I will pay you $1,000.' We live in an extremely unethical society. Today, two out of 10 people might say no.''
What can dealers do to keep employees honest?
``Dealers need to let employees know it is important to be ethical and to encourage employees to be ethical.
``They should post a code of ethics on the bulletin board of the employees' lounge. By doing this, the dealer is saying this is who I am and this is what I practice, and if you work for me, this is what I expect you to believe and practice.
``Companies that have a code of ethics instilled in their employees have fewer problems than companies that do not have one.
NADA has a newly revised code of ethics and is asking members to sign the code and post it in their car dealerships.
``I am glad NADA is doing that. You have to start somewhere. If employees believe they are working for an honest person who is straight with employees, they will be honest.''