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Detecting document fraud

Cases of document fraud, including check fraud, have exploded in recent years. The authors explain what’s behind the proliferation of this age-old scam and the modern technology CFEs can employ to stop it in its tracks.

When Blake Miner of south Florida received a letter from a bank in another part of the state about an account that he’d never opened, he took the matter to the police. They soon found out that a mother and daughter in central Florida, Jessica Chechile and Heather Steverson, opened the account in Miner’s name with notarized paperwork claiming to be his power of attorney (POA). Miner says he never signed the POA document or authorized a signature on his behalf. The account had deposited checks from ModivCare, a health care company based in Denver, Colorado. An image of a deposited check that Miner showed to police misspelled his name.

It’s unclear how the women got Miner’s personal information, but investigators soon discovered they’d been using other stolen identities to carry out a complex scheme to defraud Medicaid, a health insurance program for low-income Americans; Miner’s forged documents and fraudulent account were pieces of that puzzle. Investigators allege that Chechile and Steverson posed as drivers for patient transportation services, taxied patients to clinics across central Florida, fraudulently charging Medicaid for the trips and fleecing more than 20 low-income patients of $50,000 in benefits along the way. In April, the women were arrested on more than 200 combined charges, including identity theft, forgery, uttering a forged document, grand theft and racketeering. (See “Medicaid fraud? Eustis police arrest two in ‘most detailed’ scheme official has ever seen,” by Frank Stanfield, Daily Commercial, April 21, 2023 and “Lake County mother-daughter duo face charges in 2022 insurance fraud scheme,” by Emily McLeod, ClickOrlando.com, April 19, 2023.)

Criminals have long used forged documents and stolen identities to carry out all types of schemes like the case above. European anti-crime agency Europol considers document fraud a major engine of organized crime as faked identity and travel documents allow financial crimes, drug trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism to proceed. (See “Document Fraud: Will Your Identity Be Secure in the Twenty-first Century?” by Simon Baechler, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, June 3, 2020.) Yet while bogus documentation has provided cover to organized criminals for decades, there’s been an evolution of sorts in the use of fraudulent documents and who has access to them. No longer required are the time, patience and extraordinary skill to achieve the illusion of authenticity. Now anyone can fake information with readily available software like Adobe Photoshop and DocuSign. Whether this new generation of fraudsters are stealing checks in the mail for a check-washing operation or fudging their salaries for car loans, document fraud is taking all forms and is on the rise. We examine what’s behind this latest iteration of document fraud and what organizations can do to detect it.

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