Another view: Don't fall victim to check fraud

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A true story.

My mother continues to be a constant resource for inspiration. While visiting her recently in Albuquerque, mom's landline rang early one morning. Picking up the receiver, the voice on the line introduced himself as Michael from the Albuquerque Journal. I said "Hello," to which he proceeded to ask when "they" could expect a payment for my mother's Journal subscription that had become overdue.

I asked Michael to hold on while I asked my mother about her payment. Now, at 92, mom continues to manage her affairs quite competently so I had no reason to believe she had neglected to pay her bill. She confirmed that her payment had been sent mid-December, information which I relayed back to Michael. As I was giving him the information he interrupted me mid-sentence to inform me that our call was being recorded, not at all unusual I thought to myself.

I assured him that if mom's check had not been received I would get a replacement into the mail that day. He then suggested I give him a credit card number to avoid further delay. I explained that my mother did not conduct business in that manner and that I would send a check right away.

Michael continued to press me for a credit card to which to again replied no. He eventually said OK and the call was concluded. I then dialed a number for the Albuquerque Journal listed on mom's invoice and spoke with a customer service representative who confirmed the delinquent account. As a long shot, I asked if she knew of Michael, she did not. That in and of itself was not confirming one way or the other. And, neither was a call placed shortly thereafter to the number Michael had originally called from that morning, however, my next obvious step was to call my mother's bank. Once I was cleared to speak on her behalf, I asked the young man if he would review her checking account activity upon which we could discuss my concerns.

I asked him to verify the check number which had been written to the Journal on Dec. 17. He scrolled through his information and discovered that this check had been paid, not to the Journal but to a "John Smith" for an amount of $750. In disbelief, after asking him to double-check this information, I then asked him to look at the next check number in sequence because as it was my mother had written two checks that day, the second of which was paid to her local water department. Sure enough, that next check was also made payable to John Smith in the amount of $700.

As I processed my thoughts, I asked mom if she had put her outgoing checks into her curb-side mailbox on the morning is the Dec. 17 and she confirmed that she had. This brought the unfortunate conclusion that someone, "John Smith" or other named individual, was the culprit who had stolen her checks.

One could conclude from my earlier conversation with Michael that he perhaps was in cahoots with the ring of people stealing checks from mailboxes, however recent news in conversation with the Albuquerque Journal with great relief confirmed that Michael was an authorized representative in their customer service department.

And a good outcome persisted for my mother despite the inconvenience of having to cancel accounts and open new ones; her money was safely reimbursed into her account the following day, nothing lost yet we gained a life lesson forever.

Now back home in Brattleboro since this incident, I have done a bit of research. I would like to offer a few easy, yet important safe measures to help prevent check fraud here for in our small town, population 12,000, big city problems exist too, unfortunately.

When writing checks use a pen such as a uni-ball black gel pen that will safeguard against check washing in the event your check is stolen. Don't leave outgoing mail in your mailbox. That little red flag is an invitation to thieves. Take outgoing mail to your post office or other mailing outlet. Don't put mail in street mailboxes: the highest rate of mail theft locally is from those big, blue postal service mailboxes located on street corners and at other public places. Send valuables via registered mail. Registered mail is kept under lock and key and is signed for every time it changes processing centers.

A great deal of information on this subject exists on the web and can be easily accessed by going to www.checkfraud.org/ckfraud.html.

Check fraud is yet one more of life's challenges, desperate times bring desperate measures and can be perpetrated as easily as someone stealing a check from your own mailbox on your own property.

Susan Avery can be contacted at sueavery1@comcast.net.


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