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SAN DIEGO – In yesterday’s opening keynote address at the annual Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Marketechnics conference, Frank W. Abagnale – known from the book and movie, “Catch Me If You Can” – offered a scary litany of statistics and anecdotes about incidences of fraud in the United States:

• The crime that most affects businesses in this country is misappropriation of funds, which costs the nation $660 billion a year – an enormous sum, Abagnale said, compared to the $200 billion losses because of Hurricane Katrina and the $69 billion spent on the war in Iraq. The entire US military budget was $440 billion in 2006 – which puts the extent of these crimes into context…especially when Abagnale said that he believed that just 10 percent of embezzlements are reported to authorities. (Bank robberies get all the press, he said, but only total about $63 million a year.)

• Why do people embezzle funds? Abagnale said that 18 percent of the time, it is simple opportunity – compared to “living beyond one’s means” (14 percent), “in debt” (14 percent), “temptation too great” (14 percent), “greed” (13 percent), and to pay for vices (nine percent).

• Remarkably, Abagnale said, managers tend to steal more than employees do, women steal more than men, people who are older than 65 more than people younger than 25, and people with post graduate degrees steal more than those who only have high school diplomas.

• Check forgery, he said, dwarfs crimes such as credit card fraud, bank robbery and ATM fraud – and all the suggestions about a paperless society don’t add up to any sort of change in this trend. “When are we going to see the paperless society?” he asked. “When you see the paperless toilet – no time soon.”

• In addition, he said, check forgery is easier today than ever. “What I did 40 years ago as a teenager,” Abagnale said, referring to the exploits well documented in the book and movie, “is 40 times easier to do today.” Which is why, he said, “I don’t write checks. I don’t understand why anyone would.” Instead, he charges everything to one credit card, and makes one payment to that company each month.

• Part of the problem, Abagnale said, is that the teaching of ethics is virtually nonexistent. “”It isn’t happening at home, in school or in college,” he said. “And very few companies even have a code of ethics.”

• Abagnale noted that prosecuting people who pass forged checks is almost impossible – which is why it makes sense to institute preventive measures that will stop a company from being victimized. And one of the ways to do this, he said, is to make sure that cashiers and managers are schooled in basic techniques of detecting forged bills and checks…and then given simple magnifying glasses so they can effectively look for problems.
KC's View:
Fascinating stuff…and enormously scary.

We wonder how many companies are actively training their people to look for forgeries, and making sure that their training is constant and up-to-date.