LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It can happen to anyone. No matter how safe it might appear, con artists use the phone, the U.S. mail, e-mail and the Internet to trick unsuspecting people into sending money or disclosing personal information.
Norman Horlander makes a living investigating crooks who commit fraud. His passion for helping others started decades ago when he bought a 1976 Ford Pinto.
At 19, Horlander learned that the store where he worked was closing. Faced with making payments on the loan for his new car, he knew he had to find a job quickly.
He went to his bank and told the manager, who encouraged him to apply for an open teller position. With his strong sense of responsibility and relationship with the bank -- both as a customer and as a paperboy – teenaged Norm was a natural choice.
His penchant for problem-solving during his two years as a teller led him to the bank’s ATM balancing group. He examined potential fraud items like non-sufficient fund checks, empty envelopes and closed account checks and then prepared cases for investigators.
This experience with Citizens-Fidelity Bank, which was later acquired by PNC, proved invaluable when ATM usage and fraud surged and the investigations team needed someone to examine deposits within the department. Yet again, he was a natural choice for the role.
Now, 38 years later, Horlander is a senior loan fraud investigator, using those same skills from his days preparing ATM investigations to identify fraud.
“I have a natural tendency to want to fix things,” said Horlander, who has been in his current role for three years. “For me, I’m always thinking about how I can improve things to make them smoother or more efficient.”
On a typical day, Horlander reviews and researches PNC customer concerns to determine whether the situation is fraud. For example, if a customer questions a document, Horlander examines it to rule whether it is a legitimate PNC document. He also looks at trends in customer fraud reports to see whether there are aspects of a product that make it more susceptible to fraud.
If his research suggests potential fraud, Horlander collects evidence and puts the pieces together. He then reports the incident to law enforcement and becomes the customer’s liaison until the case is resolved.
As an investigator, you’re always being dealt negative situations. When we get a case, that means it’s a problem for the customer. My job is to make the customer feel better. I can’t turn back the clock and say ‘this didn’t happen,’ but I can do certain things to help them feel better and work to get their money back.
Ongoing communications are an important way to ease the worry for customers. During cases, PNC investigators become a single point of contact for both the police and the customer to ensure everyone has all the information they need. Horlander also has colleagues who help customers by contacting credit bureaus to remove fraudulent loans. In some cases, the fraud team can even reimburse the victim.
Horlander takes each customer’s situation to heart, explaining, “If it were me, I would be worried to death and want everything fixed right away, so that’s what I try to do for customers.”
While Horlander’s own experience as a teen taking out a loan for a car ultimately landed him a career with PNC, the auto loans he now investigates have higher stakes.
One ongoing case involves an elderly woman in Florida. She became friendly with a waitress at a restaurant where she and her husband ate every week. The waitress told the couple she needed a new car to get to work and could afford the monthly payments, but was unable to secure a loan. She convinced the woman to take out a loan, but has yet to make any payments, leaving her with the debt.
Fortunately for the elderly PNC customer, her age places this case under the Financial Exploitation of Elder and Vulnerable Adults (FEEVA) guidelines, Horlander said. FEEVA guidelines protect older adults by allowing banks and law enforcement to give them extra assistance in cases of fraud. Under FEEVA, the case can be pursued as a fraudulent loan.
For a younger person, it would not be a criminal case. Horlander explained that when someone is younger, they are expected to be more cautious and alert to fraud while older or vulnerable adults often rely on help from others.
“In this case, the customer was exploited because of her age, so we can give her extra assistance,” he said. “It’s like if something happens to your grandmother, you want to take care of her the best you can.”
Investigating fraud involving customers of all ages in roughly 35 cases a month has shown Horlander that fraud can happen to anybody. This understanding drives his empathy for scammed customers.
He said that there are some cases where investigators cannot help customers due to the way they were scammed. For instance, if a customer knowingly gave away money or opened a loan for an unreliable acquaintance. “Those are the ones that get under your skin—there’s nothing you can do for them because they facilitated the fraud.”
But the feeling of resolving a customer’s case is what makes the job so rewarding.
“When that happens, that just makes your day,” Horlander said. Even better is when a customer recognizes all the work that goes into a fraud investigation. “Just to get a thank you, that makes things pretty nice.”
In an investigation, we always do the best we can with what we have—we’re always working toward the strongest case possible so our customers can ideally see their money returned.
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