Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Check Fraud - Wrap up and Lessons Learned

I've been delaying writing the end of my check fraud misadventure as the final details had not wrapped themselves up, but I'm going to take a chance and say they are.

As I detail here, someone(s) created and wrote fraudulent checks against my checking account.
The bank asked me to speculate who I thought it was and I cheerfully did so as the obvious suspect was a large, busy Doctors' office who I had no history with and written a check to.

After I sent that off I started receiving nasty grams from Telecheck, who does the electronic check handling for Wal Mart. They had their undies in a twist about Wells Fargo stopping payment on the 2 Wal-Mart checks, and they wanted their money. By that time Wells Fargo had sent me a letter about the Wal-Mart checks saying that they obviously weren't mine and that the money had been refunded to me. Tele-check wanted a full notarized affidavit, but that was if I didn't have the bank behind me (in other words, if I was just reporting it to them), so I just sent them the bank report. The Wal-Mart charges were resolved just by a phone call to Wells Fargo, the 4 figure Nordstrom Rack nonsense is the one where I had to do the written affidavit (but never needed to notarize it - since it wasn't my signature that was in question.)

Some days pass, and I nervously watch my checking account get clobbered by late fees. Even though the account is frozen, electronic and pre-authorized transactions (both electronic and paper check that I've told them about) still go through. This is great as it protects me from further fraud but other things are not impacted. However there is a catch. I had forgotten about two rather large monthly preauthorized payments that went through overdrew the dwindelling funds (Tired of being ripped off, I had removed most of the funds except what I needed) and incurred still more overdraft fees. Peeved I called Wells Fargo and ran into a wall I'd never run into before. Customer Service said they'd be happy to help but they can't since the account is frozen and under investigation. Escalating to a supervisor got me the same exact story. Frustrated I printed out the details and wrote a letter to the fraud people supplying the case number. The fees disappeared a few days later. They might of anyway if I'd done nothing but I felt better. WF did charge me $2 for the phone call even though it did me no good - I was not charged for reporting the fraud.

A few days later the Nordstrom Rack money reappears and all the service charge fees disappear, and I mean "disappear" they don't refund the fees like customer Service does, they make them completely vanish. Now that's power. Now I'm just waiting for one last check to clear (the Forest Service for Mt. Whitney)

Now you have to assume with these things that you're never going to hear back if anything happed from any investigation, but I got in the mail a letter from the merchant I pointed the finger at. It's written to all of the patients in the practice (not to me specifically) saying that they have received information that it's posible that some patient check or credit card information may have been compromised. GOTCHA! It's like you want to ask the person(s) responsible: "Was that really worth it?" You likely don't have a job now. You definitely are being investigated. You may be arrested. You may be sent to jail. You are or will be considerably poorer that you were before you decided to take this risk. You probably did this to get out of some severe money problems. Now those problems are worse. If you have a family things for them just got worse also, unless having you out of the picture helped.

This all appears to be winding down and guess who reappears again. It's TRS - Telecheck and the letter is mostly in CAPITAL LETTERS demanding payment (i think I saw them jumping up and down in it) saying that a collector will be contacting me (I'd welcome that, but they never did). It's like you want to sit them down and gently say: I'm so sorry, but there are bad people out there and sometimes bad people steal from you. (Especially if you're a large company dealing with a lot of money - probably why the letters get so strident.) I call the Wells Fargo check fraud people and the person helping me asked if they've sent me a "Merchant Letter." "Er, no."' I repond. After confirming which transactions we're talking about she says: Ok, we'll send you one out and you can just make copies of it and that should take care of it.

A few days letter as promised Wells Fargo send me an official letter saying that this transaction was fraudulent and this "in no way should reflect poorly on [me]." I send a copy of that letter off to TRS. Some days after I hear back from TRS acknowledging that they've received information that I may (ha) have been a fraud victim and could I help them out by doing this and this and this oh and this also, and please have it all notarized. Now normally I love helping out with investigations as I find the process completely fascinating, but I really have had enough of Telecheck, and after a careful reading of the letter to make sure that it's a request and not a requirement, I just file the whole thing with everything else.

I'm hoping I'm done with Telecheck. I must admit fearing I'm not. The thing is that I rarely use their service so how am I supposed to know if I'm still on this blacklist? The only way is to write a check to my regular Dr. who uses them which I guess I should do just to test it out, but I'm just not sure I care enough - but for completeness I should.

Lessons learned
- The first one is obvious. Don't write a check to someone you don't know. Use cash (I hate cash so this is an adjustment - I now record cash spent in my register which makes me feel better about it). If it's a business then use a debit or credit card. The problem with this is with tradespeople, but tradespeople don't have large offices so there's less cracks for a check to fall through.

- The other one was much less obvious. Whilw you shouldn't use that checking account again, don't be in a hurry to close the account until you have downloaded all the information you want from it. After I closed that account I immediately lost my online access to it. Calling up to complain about it repeatedly did no good. Asking to reopen the account did no good. My only access to it now is to ask Customer Service to mail me the statements. I know they keep them for seven years so I'm just leaving it be for now but I'm out about a year and a half of statements since I was a bit lazy about downloading them. I have switched all my accounts back to online and paper. This is ironic as I usually scan and shred most of my autopaid bills now, but this will cover me if I don't do it right away.

So I have emerged from this more educated and only about a few small dollars in small service fees (less than $10) poorer. I got all my money back. Wells Fargo did an excellent job handling it even with the stumbling blocks.

And let's hope I'm done with Telecheck.


Elf said...

Isn't it how lovely that they not only steal your money but also so many hours or days of your time and exact a toll on your health, too, from the stress. All the stuff I've been dealing with and following up on are minuscule compared to your story, but still--trying to find the Mr. Alien replacement and the jacket replacement and find out for sure whether I have to find a notary fo rthe final paperwork and... yeah, I have things I'd rather have been doing.

Ellen said...

What I went through was miniscule. I'm out essentially no money and heck I'll do most anything for a good story (save spend much money on it.)

Jacket? I am an REI fashion queen of sorts so I'll send you email

Checks Unlimited Coupon said...

Its amazing. Dealing with checks these days seems more of a hassle than anything else. Especially with the internet making it so easy.