BOZEMAN, Mont - The holiday shopping season is make-or-break for many retailers. But the increase in business could also bring an increase in fraud.
The National Retail Federation expects sales of more than $602 billion for the 2013 holiday season. Fraud statistics from 2009 show businesses see $100 billion in losses yearly just from identity theft. According to the Association of American Financial Professionals checks remain the most vulnerable to fraud. The organization reports 14 percent of organizations were victims of at least one check fraud in 2011.
Check fraud is an issue that affects Montana businesses. The Montana Board of Crime Control shows 67 cases of check fraud in the state in 2012. That number may seem low, but an individual check can be written for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
NBC Montana tracked down a couple of downtown Bozeman businesses that have been hit recently with bad checks.
Larry Bowman owns Owenhouse Ace Hardware in Bozeman. He recently got hit with a bad check that totaled almost $400.
"In the case that were discussing now, it was very definitely intentional," says Bowman.
Bowman says a woman identified as Megan Elizabeth Sanchez wrote a check at his store on a closed account. The Bozeman Downtown Association sent out an alert after they heard Bowman's story urging other businesses to watch out. Bowman says he wanted to prevent other businesses from falling into the same trap, especially during the holiday shopping season.
"Bad checks do typically have an increase during the holidays in some cases its intentional and some cases accidental." he explained.
NBC Montana checked with other businesses downtown. Heyday owner Lisa Richenbaugh explained that bad check have been passed at her business, but it hasn't been a big problem.
"Four bad checks seven years," says Richenbaugh.
Richenbaugh says most bounced checks appear to be an accident. "Normally what happens is they're embarrassed and want to come back in and take care of it immediately," notes Richenbaugh.
Both Bowman and Richenbaugh say they are making sure their employees take steps to prevent this from happening again.
There are ways that you can protect your businesses from check fraud. According to the Missoula County Attorney's website businesses should always ask to see a driver license. And every time they take a check they should make sure they have current address and driver's licenses number. Finally, it says businesses should never accept post-dated, out of state or unsigned checks.