Before the dawn of the computer age, Frank Abagnale, a former check con artist and one of the most famous con men in history, spent five years in the 1960s passing bad checks worth more than $2.5 million in 26 countries. The former fraudster was eventually caught.
There is one big difference with fraud nowadays, cautions John Farias, Fort Leonard Wood's lead Defense Finance and Accounting Service Defense Travel administrator and Army DFAS Tier 2.5 Help Desk representative.
That difference is the digital footprint left behind by users of digital services like the Defense Travel System.
Since 2004, DTS has been the web-based, paperless system for travelers processing temporary duty assignments.
Farias wants DoD travelers, along with Organizational Defense Travel Administrators and routing officials, to know that everything they do within DTS leaves an electronic path.
So, if they have intentions to commit fraud, sooner or later, they are going to get caught.
In a recent case, a junior enlisted Soldier assigned to Fort Leonard Wood let greed get the best of him and used his administrative access to DTS for financial gain.
"He managed to get $100,000, which is bizarre because there are all kinds of checks and balances in DTS," Farias said.
"Post audit conducts a review of all DoD travelers, so while it may take a year or two, they'll track it," he added.
That Soldier's court martial is over. He received a bad conduct discharge, he was reduced in rank, and had to forfeit the money.
What exactly is DTS Fraud?
"The definition of fraud is complex -- inflated claims for taxi services and laundry are one thing," Farias explained. "The real fraud that we're after -- bank account fraud and creating fictitious travel, is committed by people who know better -- they are trained in a certain position and they know the loopholes in the system so they take it to their advantage."
Farias described that a smart person can manipulate the entire system.
They can change the bank where reimbursements are deposited. They can create fictitious people. They can create bank accounts and bypass routing officials. They may even get away with one or two claims in their life and then think they can make money.
That's when greed kicks in, he said.
How can travel fraud be avoided?
Farias said that travelers need to submit an accurate claim with proper receipts to ensure they get paid within 48 to 72 hours.
If the traveler is not paid in a timely manner, they need to investigate so that they can rule out fraud.
"If the traveler is not paying attention to their travel reimbursements, they miss their credit card payment, get a delinquent notice and problems just snowball," he said. "That's why it overwhelms me to think how this guy could get $100,000 out of the government without 10 to 20 people stepping up to the plate saying 'I went on a TDY mission, where's my money at?'"
Farias reminds administrators who are supposed to support the system that everything they do within the system leaves an electronic path with a "digital hoof print" of the person who signs, reviews, amends, and adjusts travel orders and vouchers.
"Do your job, and don't get stupid," Farias warns administrators, "because sooner or later you will get caught if you have fraud in mind."
Farias teaches the DFAS Basic ODTA course each month.
"My intent is to help the traveler and teach administrators how to use the system correctly with the appropriate checks and balances so that crime can be avoided," he said.