Craiglist Accountant Fraud – What a Difference a Day Makes

My colleague Frank Vukovits and I talk about this case a lot. While it seems simple on the surface, there are a lot of unanswered questions and I have not been able to track down answers.

The base story is simple, Angela Phan was hired as an accountant for Triplematic Dispensers via a Craigslist ad. She worked one day and stole almost $15,000. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch story seems to be primary, but it’s behind a paywall. KSDK has an overview for free. Both articles are thin.

With a little digging, we find that we don’t know why Angela only worked one day. We don’t know if she quit or was fired. None of the articles say what day she actually worked. We just know that the fraud started in July 2014 and she wasn’t caught until December 2015.

Let’s back up. This is simple check fraud. Angela worked one day and got a paycheck mailed to her. The paycheck obviously had the company routing number and account number on the check as all checks do.

Angela is alleged to have used that information to pass fraudulent transactions through Triplematic’s bank account to the tune of $14,720.21. If you just read the headline Accountant Worked One Day, Allegedly Embezzled $15k it’s funny. When you realize the fraud went on for 18 months it gets weird. That’s a long fraud for only 15k. Phan gets points added for patience and deducted for stealing small amounts. If you’re going to commit felony identity theft (what she was charged with), don’t skimp.

A lot of people have suggested that Triplematic brought this on by hiring an accountant via Craiglist. I tend to agree, but she was gone after a day. We’re all allowed an occasional mistake. What I don’t understand is how this continued for 18 months. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article:

“The company later noticed several unauthorized transactions had been made on the business checking account. The company’s bank said at least one of the transactions was made to an account connected to Phan.”

Assuming the articles are correct, why didn’t they catch these in the July 2014 bank rec and close the account? Why leave this open for 18 months?

I’m intrigued enough by this story that I poked around Missouri CaseNet to see if could find a final disposition. The articles indicate that she confessed to a felony so there should be some kind of resolution, but I couldn’t find anything. That means that Angela Phan could still be out there answering Craigslist ads for accounting jobs.

How do companies prevent this?

  1. Maybe don’t hire accountants off of Craigslist and do a little due diligence on candidates. In fairness, anyone who gets a check has routing and account information.
  2. Use a dedicated payroll account that doesn’t carry extra cash. This makes extra payments stand out.
  3. Perform bank reconciliations in a timely manner and investigate suspicious or missing payments.
  4. Use positive pay on the account to reject unauthorized payments. Positive Pay is a bank feature used as a control for checking accounts. Account holders submit authorized payments to the bank. Unmatched payments are rejected. Alternatively/Additionally, banks may present transactions online with a short timeline to reject unauthorized transactions.
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