Smart About Money: “If only she’d looked at her bank statements sooner …”

A local news network’s web site recently recounted an unfortunate story about something that absolutely did not have to end up the way it did.

Recently a woman in Metro Boston discovered that her long-time housekeeper was embezzling. Specifically, her housekeeper had been forging checks against a checking account that this woman and her husband had for their kids’ college tuition savings at a large national bank.

The check that caught the woman’s attention was for $2450. Taken aback and in shock, she hoped it was “an isolated incident.” But it turns out it wasn’t. Another check written earlier in the year was for $23,708. The memo on that check said “car.”

In fact, the news network reported that “a closer look” at this couple’s checking account revealed “eight different checks made out to the house-cleaner over a one-year period” amounting to close to $72,000.

The woman never had any reason to be suspicious. Over seven years, nothing had ever been missing. “Not even a missing lipstick,” she said.

She contacted her bank and reported the theft. She said she was upset that there were “no red flags” from the bank when her housekeeper “suddenly started cashing checks for thousands of dollars.”

A spokesperson for the large national bank said that they employ screening to detect as much suspicious activity as possible while “still enabling customers to conduct their day-to-day business.”

Which is a good point. Even the biggest banks do not have staff members evaluating every check a customer writes – nor would customers stand for that.

As it turns out, this woman became much more upset when the bank informed her that forged checks need to be reported by the customer very quickly, within 30 days in this specific situation.

When asked about that, the bank’s spokesperson said customers are “key partners” in the overall effort to combat fraud and customers are strongly encouraged to monitor account activity to help protect their accounts.

A civil litigation attorney interviewed by the news network said that “a bank’s main obligation is sending a monthly statement and the onus is on customers to catch suspicious account activity.” It requires “vigilance” on the customer’s part, he added. That’s true!

Checking accounts have more moving parts than they used to, with automatic payments, debit card transactions, online and mobile banking. It’s not just paper checks and deposits anymore. Keeping accurate records and balancing to a statement can start to feel like a chore that’s easy to ignore, even okay to ignore.

Should you make yourself balance your checking account every month? That’s a topic for a future column. But there is no doubt – none! – that to protect your money, you really want to closely review every financial statement you get every single month. Especially your bank statement.

It’s all about exercising prudent attentiveness and you are the only one who can do that. There are multiple ways to monitor a bank account today and different ways work better for different people. But anything suspicious needs to be noticed and reported immediately.

It sounds like this woman had not checked her bank statements in over a year. Does that mean she deserves to be out $72,000? Not at all! It’s a classic “if only” situation – if only she’d looked at her bank statements every month, there’s no doubt her story would have had a much happier-for-her resolution.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. “Smart About Money” is a regular column he writes for the Canton Citizen. Have a financial question you’d like to ask? Email to


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