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FinCrime sends bank fraud news to 15 states


Pulling a fast one at an Iowa bank can get you noticed in 15 states. The FinCrime network, which began as an in-state system in 1998, has expanded dramatically in the past two years and now links 2,100 banks and other financial institutions for the purpose of sharing information about criminals and suspected criminals.

“It’s primarily used to alert people to identity fraud, identity theft, stolen checks and suspicious activity,” said Steve Looney, vice president for strategic technologies at the Iowa Bankers Association. “For example, in Omaha few weeks ago, a car full of five young men was pulling into bank parking lots, and the men would come in and ask questions. They did that at three or four banks, and somebody put an alert on the network.”

The classic FinCrime story so far involves a criminal who in the fall of 2003 defrauded a bank teller in Grinnell by creating confusion during a cash transaction and was arrested two days later running the same scam in Denver, Colo. “That’s the way financial crime tends to work,” said Looney. “It tends to move up and down the interstate highway system.”

FinCrime began as a way for Iowa banks and law enforcement officers to share information about crimes. A member of that informal group, Cedar Rapids police officer Greg Koenighain, is credited with bringing the network into existence in 1998. “They came to the Iowa Bankers Association and asked if we could develop something,” Looney said, and the IBA came up with a statewide network.

Five years later, “in 2003, at a banking conference, Iowa Bankers Association executives mentioned it to banking association executives from other states,” Looney said. “That spawned some interest, and we rolled it out to nine other Midwestern states.” Today’s total of 15 states takes in a sprawling territory from Minnesota to Georgia and New Jersey to Montana, and includes 2,100 users. In Iowa, 450 financial institutions take part.

Law enforcement authorities and participating banks can post information about crimes and suspicious incidents on the FinCrime.com Web site. In a typical month, according to Looney, information is posted on 130 incidents.

“Primarily what we see reported is counterfeit checks, stolen checks and fraudulent checks,” Looney said. “That’s the type of thing that really ends up costing banks and customers a lot of money.”

The information is saved on a database for future reference, and an e-mail alert is sent to selected FinCrime subscribers, based on their interest profile and the details of the incident. In addition, the network automatically checks the incident against all other reports in the database. Any match is reported to the sources of the two reports.

System users also can search stored data in several ways, including by name, date, location and type of crime.

Iowa banks participate in FinCrime at no charge; however, the Iowa Credit Union League pays a fee so that its members can have access. Some other states charge all participating banks.

“We continue to talk to other states, and we’re sure hopeful that more will join,” Looney said. Similar systems have been set up in other parts of the nation.

No statistics are available on the number of arrests made because of FinCrime efforts, but Looney has collected some testimonials to its effectiveness.

“Thanks to one of the alerts put out on this system . . . I was able to make an arrest in a case I have been investigating for five months,” reads an e-mail from a police officer in Grand Forks, N.D. “It resulted in the recovery of stolen furniture and vehicles. Currently six different jurisdictions, in both North Dakota and Minnesota, have filed criminal complaints on my suspect. Credit the tip I got from [FinCrime] for moving this case to an arrest.”

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