Officials warn against document fraud

John Evans, Citizens Bank branch manager, looks over a file of documents in his office in Lenoir City.

With the turn of the new year, scammers now have the opportunity to take advantage of checks, important documents and forms to commit fraud.

Local law enforcement and banks are warning people of the danger of abbreviating dates signed onto documents that could lead to potential loss of money or benefits.

“It would allow someone to backdate some type of legal document if you didn’t write the full 2020 out on all official or legal documents that you were doing in this particular year,” Don White, Lenoir City police chief, said. “Obviously, if you just put 20, somebody could backdate a document after death, things of that nature. It could have potential for a criminal to fraudulently change a document.”

John Evans, Citizens Bank of Lenoir City branch manager, is one of many who are still learning about this recent threat.

Evans believes most fraudulent activity can be avoided by being more aware.

“Most of the fraud we see here could be averted if people paid more attention to the information they put out on the internet,” he said. “I mean, we see so many people that have, and have for years, that come in here with a letter that they’ve gotten from somebody or an email of somebody promising them this much money if they send them this much money and so many people do it. From a bank’s lending standpoint, we have a lot of control over the documentation and the dating from those, and they don’t really ever leave our hands.”

White said there have been no reports of fraudulent backdating in Lenoir City, but warns it could happen.

If a check date was abbreviated to 20 instead of 2020, a scammer could illegally add digits to the date and fraudulently cash the check, White said.

“It would just all be case by case. It would all depend on the crime and how it impacted the victim,” he said. “If it’s a financial crime or it was a legal document that defrauded someone out of an estate or some type of death benefit, the punishment for the crime would be related back to the value of the criminal activity. For example, if somebody had changed documents and received a benefit that was worth $50,000, the consequences would be different than a $5,000 fraudulent act. The felony range changes depending on the value of the crime. If the person was defrauded a level of money, it could actually be a misdemeanor.”

Joe Littleton, SouthEast Bank information security officer, always encourages people to pay close attention to their bank accounts.

“Use your online banking to set up alerts for account activity such as ordering checks or reissuing debit cards,” Littleton said. “Check your statements monthly and look for any discrepancies. If you see something that looks out of place, reach out to your financial institution immediately and report the issue.”

Scammers can also take advantage of bank accounts through a series of robotic or impersonation calls, Littleton said.

“Your financial institution will not call you and ask you for your password or a security code unprompted,” he said. “Be sure you don’t give away access to your accounts by falling for someone pretending to be you from your bank. Sound advice is if you are in doubt, call your bank’s main number and speak to a representative who can walk you through what to do next.”

In the case that someone experiences fraudulent activity, they are strongly advised to contact their financial institution and local law enforcement immediately.

“They would just need to notify the local law enforcement for the jurisdiction wherever they live,” White said. “They just need to be aware of when they’re doing legal documents to ensure that they write out the full year.”

“If you think someone has stolen your personal information, sound advice would be to sign up for a credit monitoring service,” Littleton added. “The best thing to do is to keep a watchful eye out and report suspicious activity as soon as you spot it. You must report activity within 30 days or you risk losing some protections against fraud.”