For anyone who wants a fake pay stub or falsified tax return, an easy source is just a click away.
A website called banknovelties.com claims it can provide “fake bank statements” as well as “fake pay stubs”, “fake utility bills” and “fake US (1040) tax returns”. They are readily available for as little as $50 each.
It may sound like a joke. But as the US government pursues billions of dollars in fraud related to congressional pandemic measures, a common thread has emerged: the people who stole taxpayers’ money did so using forged documents. And these are easily obtained from fully functional websites on the internet.
“Sites like this are designed to create documents that evade automated fraud detection tools, and even human underwriters,” said Jesse Carlson, general counsel for commercial lender Kapitus, and a former law enforcement attorney. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Professional Liability and Financial Crimes
When Congress authorized up to $669 billion in forgivable pandemic loans from the Small Business Administration two years ago, much of that money disappeared into the hands of bad actors who claimed to be running companies with need funds. The US Department of Justice is devoting more resources to identifying and prosecuting these fraudsters, with the Secret Service estimating that more than $100 billion has been stolen from a range of programs under the Coronavirus Aid and Economic Relief Security Act.
The SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program was particularly susceptible to fraud, as banks were told to withdraw cash quickly to prevent the pandemic from causing an economic crisis. Under the administration’s rules, lenders were “held harmless if borrowers failed to meet the program’s criteria” as part of its goal to act quickly.
Banks could thus suspend their normal due diligence, setting up “one of the best frauds of all time”, said BJ Moravek, a former Secret Service agent and bank examiner.
“I haven’t seen anything that overshadows that,” said Moravek, who began his career in the 1990s hunting for “prime bank guarantee” bonds, fictitious instruments peddled by crooks to investors. gullible, about the CARES Act scams.
Few documents filed in CARES Act courts identify how defendants secured their doctored documents. But Moravek, now a director at accounting firm Kaufman Rossin, cited websites such as banknovelties.com as examples of how easily such frauds are perpetrated.
The site promotes a range of materials, some billed simply as “educational financial news”. It offers authentic documents from dozens of lenders to create bank statements that appear to be from giants like Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co., as well as smaller institutions like Nevada State Bank and Bethpage Federal Credit Union.
Buyers can also get utility bills, frequently used for address verification, which appear to be from companies such as Florida Power & Light, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and London-based National Grid. (For UK customers, the website offers a separate list of UK, European and Australasian banks.)
The website, which claims to have been in business since 2006, currently operates as Bankus in the US and Banksy in the UK. Its roots are murky: the company claims to have offices in New York and London, but it doesn’t provide an address or phone number. Bankus does not appear to be registered in New York State as a business.
All correspondence is by email and payment is accepted only in Bitcoin. Banknovelties.com’s IP address is listed as the Netherlands, and the sometimes stilted wording on the website suggests that the people behind the company might not be native English speakers.
The company did not respond to email requests for comment and for more information about its business practices. Banksy offers a “get in touch” button on its site for potential partners alongside a signature with a familiar name: Richard Nixon. And yes, the signature bears a remarkable resemblance to that of former US President Richard Nixon, who died in 1994.
As a test last year, Moravek sent a request to the site asking if it could provide a handful of “novelties” in the form of fake IRS documents. The answer came back in a few hours:
“Dear customer: We can do all these 5 new items for a total of 500 USD in standard order (completion in 3 working days) or 650 USD for delivery in 24 hours. If you agree to continue, send us all the exact data to insert and we’ll send you payment instructions to continue. Please give feedback.”
While similar products could proliferate on the dark web, the banknovelties site is accessible to everyone. And he has competition. A quick Google search reveals several sites that create fake documents. Most state that their products are intended for educational or entertainment purposes, rather than unauthorized use.
Banknovelties.com uses the disclaimer “Your use of any information or material on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable.”
Buying or selling fake bank documents may not be illegal outright, though using the name of a real bank probably is, said former federal and state attorney Jacob Frenkel. currently at the Dickinson-Wright law firm. The real accountability centers around the use of paperwork.
“Where the clear purpose or logical use is to enable fraudulent activity, the person and company selling the false documents could face criminal charges,” Frenkel said, adding that the risk of prosecution decreases if the site is operated outside the country.
The last significant enforcement action against fake document providers in the United States took place in 2018, when the Federal Trade Commission shut down three local sites that trafficked in fake financial documents: Fakepaystubonline.com, noveltyexcuses.com, and PaycheckStubOnline. com. The FTC accused each of the three owners of unfair business practices.
The FTC did not respond to a request for comment on banknovelties.com.
Moravek shared his discovery of the website last year at a forensic accounting conference sponsored by the US Treasury Department and Florida Atlantic University.
“Law enforcement officials at the conference were amazed,” he said. “They didn’t know it existed.” And yet, a year later, it is still in business.
The US Department of Justice is devoting more resources to identifying and prosecuting fraudsters who produce false documents used to defraud government aid programs.