Businesses are the biggest targets of financial crimes. Help is being offered in Prince George’s Co.

October isn’t even over yet and already fraud and scams have cost Prince George’s County, Maryland, residents and businesses more than $10 million.

With the holiday shopping season almost upon us, there’s concern that the number will go up even more.

“Because of their large balance sheets, businesses are at even a greater risk for financial fraud than citizens would be,” said Lt. Joseph Bellino, who leads the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Financial Crimes unit.

“We’ve seen that with the transition of mobile banking and our kind of move to the digital age when it comes to the banking system. We found that financial tsunami … that local businesses are being targeted more and more frequently with financial fraud.”

Different businesses are targeted by different groups of criminals, with different methods.

“The most prevalent is mail fraud and check fraud. Any time that businesses are paying employees or paying partner businesses, their checks are being intercepted in the mail system,” Bellino said, who advised to never drop a check off inside a blue mailbox. Instead, take it inside the post office.

“But we also see all kinds of issues like apartment rental scams to identity theft,” he added. “We see that local street gangs are using identity theft to rent apartments throughout Prince George’s County that are then used to further illegal activity.”

International criminal groups are also hacking businesses and moving money from their online bank accounts.

On Friday, Nov. 3, the county is hosting a business fraud prevention seminar free to any business operating in the county — big or small.

“We have large real estate development companies who want to learn about the apartment rental scams, but we have small nail salons, transport companies, funeral homes. So this, this is for everybody,” Bellino said.

“And the reality is, if you’re engaged in financial transactions in Prince George’s County, we want to give you this information, so you can protect (the) financial well-being of your companies.

Local and federal law enforcement and other agencies will also be part of that seminar, and business professors from the University of Maryland will be on hand to help business owners learn more about embezzlement prevention and other accounting protocols that can save them.

“A large monetary loss could potentially jeopardize the well-being of your company, your employees, and everyone,” Bellino said.

“We want to secure and ensure that there’s financial welfare for everyone. And the number one way that we all can protect ourselves is to have the most updated information to prevent [people] from falling victim.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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