What is skimming?
Skimming from marital bank accounts is the process of slowly transferring marital assets from joint accounts to a secret account in the name of one person. This version of financial infidelity may be considered outright theft and often requires the assistance of an unrelated third party.
Here’s an example of financial infidelity:
Years ago we had a client come to us after becoming suspicious of his wife’s spending habits. He knew something was fishy but wasn’t sure why. His wife spent very large amounts of money at retail establishments like department and grocery stores on her debit card. He became suspicious when he realized she never seemed to have large bags of new clothing and was purchasing groceries only for a family of three.
We completed a cash flow analysis from bank statements and prepared a list of possible avenues for financial infidelity. Principal among them were the large and abnormally frequent trips to grocery stores and Nordstrom.
Here’s what we found:
During our analysis we asked the client whether his wife typically carried around large amounts of cash. We were concerned she could be taking cash out every time she used her debit card at the grocery store. Many grocery stores will allow for $200 of cash to be withdrawn at the cash register on top of a bill for $18.99 in groceries. The total bill then looks like $218.99 was spent at the grocery store on a bank statement. It actually makes a lot of sense for stores to allow these cash back transactions because it helps reduce employees access to large sums of cash and reduces internal costs for accounting and balancing cash deposits.
We also wondered if the spouse could be taking advantage of cash refunds when returning purchased items to department stores. Many stores will give you the option to receive cash or a credit to your card if a debit card was used to make the original purchase. There is typically a limit to the amount of cash refunds they will provide but a small refund here and there can ad up quickly.
Where did the money go?
Once we raised these concerns the client was able to find tens of thousands of dollars of cash withdrawals made through these two methods by comparing receipts he acquired to bank statements. The only remaining question was…Where did the money go? It turned out the cash was being sent to her mother in a different state via US Mail and deposited into an account in the mother’s name. This was a smart move by the wife because the statements would never be sent to her and any interest earned on the account would be on her mother’s tax ID.
This type of scheme is not all that uncommon. A recent Harris Poll done on behalf of the National Endowment for Financial Education saw 26% of respondents admitting to hiding bank accounts or cash from their spouse.
Fortunately for our client there are ways to sniff out financial infidelity.