Smart About Money: The Saddest Kind of Fraud

At a recent banking conference, a banker from the North Shore told me about a particularly unfortunate situation she had run into. A young man came into her bank to cash a check. He did not have an account at that bank, but the check was from an account-holder.

Apparently, everything about this young man set off alarm bells. His demeanor, first of all. He seemed very anxious. He was rude to the teller, trying to hurry her along. He used some choice language. And – most unusual of all – from what could be observed it appeared that he was in his pajamas.

The teller called in a manager for back-up. And the manager checked the signature on the check against the signature card on file for the actual account-holder.

You can probably see where this is going. The signatures did not match. Not even close. Under the circumstances, the bank staff refused to cash the check. The young man left but that wasn’t the end of the story. He went to another branch of the same bank and tried to cash the check there.

By that time, the bank had put an alert on the account. And they had made a call to the actual account-holder to let them know it seemed like someone had stolen at least one of their checks. It turns out that the account belonged to the young man’s father.

For all the media reports about “Stranger Fraud,” the fact is that fraud is much more common with family members. It happens all the time. Family members have easier access to homes and financial papers. Sometimes – for various reasons – they may think they’re “entitled” to a relative’s money.

And right now with a nationwide opioid crisis that has also caught up many people here in Massachusetts, it’s fair to say that banks and financial advisors are definitely seeing an uptick in “Family Member Fraud.”

A few weeks ago, a local woman told me that a relative had stolen some home equity checks from her. Here’s the twist – the relative who stole the checks took one to a branch of a large national bank and cashed it without any signature on the front of the check!

As far as the woman could guess, the teller at the big national bank never questioned the signature because they never noticed that the check was not signed! Luckily, this customer kept a close eye on her bank statements and was able to alert the bank and get her money back.

“Family Member Fraud” is the saddest kind of fraud. Sad because families should be able to trust one another. It becomes even more sad and more difficult because many families don’t know how to confront the “Now what?” question that comes up after a fraud is committed.

If you have a relative you know has a problem with thievery or drugs, at the very least you will want to be extra-vigilant about keeping them away from your financial accounts and especially your checks. Ideally, you may want to consult with your banker and investment company to see what options they have for securing your accounts.

You have every right to protect yourself and your money. And acting to prevent a family member from committing a fraud may save you – and them! – from a significant amount of hassle and grief in the long run.

Additionally, you may want to talk with a local attorney about your legal options or to get some help approaching the police to make a report if a fraud has been committed.

There’s absolutely no need for you or your family to be embarrassed. Bankers, investment professionals, attorneys and the police have seen it all before.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. “Smart About Money” is a regular column he writes for the Canton Citizen. Have a financial question you’d like to ask? Email to


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