The Resurgence of Old-School Fraud in the Age of Advanced Technology

By Rihonna Scoggins May 10, 2023

In a time of swiftly progressing technology, fraud examiners have consistently evolved, utilizing state-of-the-art tools and methodologies to tackle fraud. Yet, as our dependence on technology for detecting and averting fraudulent activities heightens, perpetrators have started to revert to time-tested techniques of deceit. This article delves into the reemergence of classic fraud tactics and emphasizes the need for constant vigilance in addressing both technologically advanced and traditional methods.

The Allure of Old-Fashioned Fraud

As the digital landscape has become more sophisticated, so too have the efforts of fraudsters. Yet, it is the more traditional methods of fraud that are experiencing a resurgence in popularity among criminals.

As an example, as alternative payment systems gain prominence, cash-based fraud has become an appealing option for fraudsters looking to bypass the strict scrutiny of the digital banking sector. This move away from traditional banking has created new opportunities for criminals to exploit weaknesses in these alternative systems.

Social engineering, a timeless method of fraud, also continues to wreak havoc. Despite advances in cybersecurity and user awareness, schemes involving manipulation and deception remain effective. In one particularly chilling case, a social engineer posed as a trusted organization and managed to manipulate Google and Facebook into making transfers into his accounts totaling more than $100 million.

Why the Shift?

There are several reasons why fraudsters are revisiting older methods of deception:

  • Adaptation: As fraud examiners become more proficient in detecting digital fraud, criminals must adapt their strategies to avoid being caught. By relying on traditional methods, they hope to evade the sophisticated technological countermeasures that many organizations have implemented.
  • Familiarity: Many fraudsters have a long history of perpetrating old-school fraud schemes and are comfortable with these techniques. The lack of a digital footprint can also make it more difficult to trace the perpetrators.
  • Complacency: In the race to stay ahead of the latest digital threats, organizations may overlook the importance of training employees to recognize and respond to traditional fraud tactics. This can create a false sense of security, leaving companies vulnerable to these age-old scams.
  • Nostalgia: As strange as it may seem, there may be a sense of nostalgia among fraudsters, in which some may prefer to carry out their crimes using methods that have a proven track record of success.

Adapting Fraud Detection and Prevention Strategies

To ensure that organizations are adequately prepared to handle the resurgence of old-school fraud tactics, several key steps must be taken:

  • Comprehensive Training: Ensure that employees at all levels receive thorough training on both digital and traditional fraud risks. This includes regular refresher courses to keep staff up to date on the latest trends in fraud prevention and detection. By empowering employees with the knowledge and tools to recognize fraud in its various forms, organizations can create a strong first line of defense against criminals.
  • Strengthening Internal Controls: A robust system of internal controls is critical in preventing and detecting fraud. Companies should regularly assess their internal controls and update them as needed to address any identified weaknesses. This includes implementing strong access controls, segregating duties and conducting regular audits to ensure that controls are operating effectively.
  • Encouraging a Culture of Vigilance: Organizations must foster a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting suspicious activity or concerns related to potential fraud. This can be achieved through the establishment of anonymous reporting channels, as well as by promoting a strong ethical culture that emphasizes the importance of integrity and accountability.
  • Collaborating with Industry Peers: It's not uncommon for fraudsters to set their sights on multiple organizations within a particular industry. By joining forces with fellow professionals and exchanging information on emerging fraud patterns and techniques, companies can collectively devise more efficient strategies to detect and ward off such schemes.
  • Seeking External Expertise: In certain situations, organizations might find it advantageous to engage external specialists, like Certified Fraud Examiners (CFEs) or forensic accountants, to enhance their fraud detection and prevention initiatives. These experts can offer invaluable perspectives and specialized knowledge in pinpointing and minimizing fraud risks.

Case Studies of Old-School Fraud

To gain a deeper understanding of the hazards posed by the revival of traditional fraud techniques, it's insightful to consider some recent instances:

  • Check Fraud: Even with the extensive adoption of electronic payment methods, check fraud persists as a notable concern. In a recent case, fraudsters stole checks from a woman’s mail before they were delivered to their ultimate destination and “washed” them. This underscores the need for vigilance and the implementation of solid controls to authenticate checks.
  • Ponzi Schemes: These age-old investment swindles, where returns are paid to existing investors using funds from new investors, continue to trap unwitting victims. In 2019, a colossal Ponzi scheme in the United States was exposed, with the fraudsters bilking investors of over $1 billion. To safeguard themselves, investors should conduct exhaustive due diligence before investing and approach high-return, low-risk promises with skepticism.
  • Invoice Fraud: Scammers frequently capitalize on the trust between businesses and their suppliers to execute invoice fraud. In one recent incident, criminals posed as a genuine supplier and submitted falsified invoices to a company, leading to considerable financial losses. Organizations can reduce this risk by enforcing strict controls surrounding invoice processing and routinely reviewing and verifying supplier information.
  • Insider Fraud: While technology has facilitated the detection of external threats, organizations must not neglect the possibility of insider fraud. In a high-profile example, a transportation company employee embezzled millions over several years by manipulating the company's payroll system. To counteract insider fraud, companies should commit to ongoing employee background checks, implement stringent access controls and establish a robust system of checks and balances.

The resurgence of time-honored fraud techniques highlights the crucial need for a wide-ranging approach to fraud detection and prevention. While we persist in adopting innovative technologies, it's essential not to overlook the enduring dangers posed by conventional deceit tactics. By embracing a well-rounded plan that addresses the full spectrum of fraud risks — from cutting-edge to age-old — organizations can effectively safeguard themselves and their assets.