February 19, 2014 catherinetownsend

Case study: The supermodel banking scam

Recently, while investigating a fraud case, I stumbled upon a wide-ranging bank scam that sounds like it could be the next Leonardo DiCaprio movie. A senior source at Citibank told me about the ‘Supermodel Visa Scam’, nicknamed because the women who open the fraudulent accounts are often Eastern European women in town on short-term visas.

‘These women look like supermodels,’ my source told me. ‘They walk into the bank in these little sundresses and long legs, smile, open an account, then leave. That’s the their real job.’

The New York Times has reported that many small business owners can be wiped out by malware and wire fraud since banks often not take responsibility for unauthorized debits from business accounts. But the techniques of this scam are mostly old-school.

Like former spy turned model Anna Chapman (pictured), many of these women use their charm to help seal the deal and get the information they want. Once the initial paperwork is filled out, all they have to do is wait.

Within a few weeks, they receive a sizeable deposit, usually from a) a single paycheck diverted from a high net worth individual or b) a small business payment. At a minimum there are three people involved: The sexy decoy, the plant inside select companies and the person who does the actual online transactions.

Then, my source adds: ‘They only come back once – to take out a suitcase full of money.’

The faceless person behind the computer knows exactly when the payroll or transfer will be processed – so if, for example, the money comes through at 2 am on a Sunday night, the woman comes back on Monday morning first thing to clean out the account.

Her work is now done. By the time the individual or business figures out that the money is missing, the woman – like a hotter version of Keyser Soze – has vanished.

My source said that the scammers are often able to net around $20,000, but says that there have been thefts for over $500,000 using this method. And there is no easy way to track these guys (and girls) down: The information on the initial paperwork was fraudulent, and the woman who came to the bank isn’t the person who masterminded the scam.

Business bank accounts are ripe for fraud because they use EIN numbers, rather than social security numbers, to open the account. Anyone can request an EIN for free online in about 30 seconds. Individuals may get compensated, but very often small business bank accounts do not offer the same level of FDIC protection – and a $20,000 loss could put a fledgling new business out of business.

It’s scary stuff, but a good reminder to trust but verify, check bank accounts often, and always remember – if a person or business seems too good to be true, call a PI to check it out.