Everyone knows what a serious financial crime looks like: robbing banks like Bonnie and Clyde qualifies, as does conning unsuspecting victims out of millions of dollars like Frank Abagnale, whose story was told in the movie,Catch Me If You Can. Financial crimes seem unlikely to ever impact the lives of most everyday Americans, but there are a surprising number of things Americans habitually do with checks, cash, and credit that are illegal.
“It’s surprisingly easy to adopt a dicey financial habit under the guise of ‘everyone does it,’ ‘I was just trying to help,’ or ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time,’ only to discover later that what you’ve done is, in fact, illegal,”as Bankrate explains. “The odds of getting caught might seem slim, but the consequences can be harsh.”
Here’s a look at the six most common ways Americans get on the wrong side of the law while making everyday financial transactions, based on research conducted by financial research firm Bankrate. Some items on this list may seem obvious, yet the fact that Bankrate chose to include them in its analysis suggests that they occur more frequently than you would imagine.
1. Signing someone else’s name on a check
It may seem like it’s not a big deal to sign the name of a family member or partner on a check; they may have been too busy driving to sign on the dotted line, or they may have been unexpectedly hospitalized. Your intentions may have been the best, but that does not change the fact that constitutes forgery and is illegal, unless a power of attorney is in effect. Even if a parent signs the name of a child away at college, or if a child signs the name of a parent who has been incapacitated, they could still be found guilty of a financial crime.
Carol Kaplan — formerly the spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C. and now Director of Public Affairs at National Insurance Crime Bureau — told Bankrate that signing someone else’s name on a check is usually considered to be forgery, and is illegal in many states. “In most cases, it’s on behalf of a loved one who probably isn’t going to object, but people should know that that’s forgery,” she added.
In all 50 states, forgery is a felony, punishable by a number of different punishments, ranging from jail or prison time to significant fines to probation, and to restitution, or compensating the victim for money or goods stolen. Certain types of forgery are considered to be misdemeanor crimes, and therefore are punished more leniently.