Representing Texas Homeowners Associations & those aggrieved by them

Attorney Trey Wilson handles lawsuits and pre-litigation disputes involving enforcement of restrictive covenants/deed restrictions, Homeowner Association member voting/ballot/proxy issues, HOA Board elections, collection of assessments/dues, placement and removal of liens, CCR/Declaration disputes, developer HOA control/turnover, ACC approval, HOA Board governance, Abuses by Homeowners Associations and drafting/amendment of HOA documents including By-laws.


Community associations can be easy targets for con artists

Community associations - and their budgets - can be ripe targets for con artists.

Associations are run by unpaid volunteers, some with little more financial experience than balancing a personal checkbook. And many condominium and homeowner associations have large and multiple bank accounts, with checks constantly coming in and going out for maintenance and other projects.

Amid all of that, directors have to learn to fight against possible fraud from those within the community and from the outside.

"Fraud is an ongoing threat to associations. And the likelihood of being a victim escalates during bad times," said Donna Berger, the executive director of the Community Advocacy Network, a lobbying group for associations.

"Association boards are run by volunteers who take time away from families, jobs and hobbies to serve. Con artists know these time constraints and divided attention might leave an opening."

With that in mind, Berger and other experts advise association members to be on guard and take specific steps to prevent fraud.

Berger recommends directors need to take the time, for instance, to create a delicate system of checks and balances to make sure the books remain in order. And don't leave the work to one or two members. The entire board should be up to speed on all financial transactions and practices. Berger's strongest piece of advice: Make sure your association requires two signatures to write an association check.

"If you do not already require two signatures to write an association check, consider implementing this requirement," Berger said. While it might prove to be inconvenient at times, it's a good security measure.

More tips:

Make sure to have a bond in place for every person who has access to association funds.

Pay attention to details. In bad times, employees might be more tempted to steal money by exploiting weaknesses in an association's financial controls. Look closely at what supplies are being ordered, what checks are sent out and all petty cash disbursements.

Review the association's "Employee Dishonesty" coverage under its insurance policy to determine what losses will be covered and not covered. The last thing you want is to be ripped off by an office manager, find out your association is not covered and you owe an insurance bill.

Check your own records regularly. Even if you have professional management in place, it is essential that the board review all bank accounts each month, every month.

Obtain photocopies of checks from the bank and review the payee, amount and authorizing signatures.

A monthly examination will catch checks paid to unauthorized suppliers and vendors or those approved with fraudulent signatures. Also, transfers between all bank accounts should be reconciled. Many fraudulent transactions are intentionally committed near the end of the month to allow the wrongdoer to cover the fraud by categorizing it as an outstanding deposit or a check in transit, Berger said. This usually leaves 30 days for the board and/or manager to forget about the discrepancy or for the employee to cover up the misappropriation.

Look out for red flags. Are checks being sent to a series of companies with similar sounding names? If your association is paying the American Pool Company for monthly services and the American Pool Inc. too, there could be a problem. Also look out for money being sent to businesses using P.O. box numbers rather than street addresses.

By Daniel Vasquez, The Sun Sentinel