Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for January include: (1/5) Jennifer J. Chow, (1/12) Amy Pershing, (1/19) Heather Weidner, (1/26) Marilyn Levinson.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I Was ROBBED by Carla Robbery Victim Damron

Last Saturday, I spent the morning immersed in money. My money.  I undertook my least favorite task: checking on accounts, retirement, Social Security, etc, so that I had a handle on my overall financial situation and could start planning when I could quit working my pesky day job.  Not that I’m ready to do that, but on some days, the idea holds GREAT appeal.

Anywhoo, when I checked my accounts. I noticed something off with my checking. Two checks had cleared, but the amount looked wrong. I compared what the website said with my checkbook and discovered checks that should have equaled $198 totaled over $700. When I called the credit union, they said I’d have to wait until Monday to get this resolved. My account had been compromised.  
I had mailed the checks from my mailbox. Note: don’t EVER do that. (I certainly won’t do it again!). Someone stole the checks, “washed them”, changed the amount and payee, and cashed them via a Target in Charleston (I still don’t quite “get” how they could do that). When I finally met with an account person that Monday, my account had to be closed. I was given another account number and had to change my direct deposits and deal with other hassles, but they did, eventually, restore the $700 to my account.

The nice bank person looked somewhat puzzled by some of the questions I asked. “How often does this happen?” “Do you go after the criminals?” “How do they wash the checks? What chemicals do they use?” “How was this money ‘electronically withdrawn’ without y’all ever seeing the check?”

Of course, she didn’t know, so I did some research myself. I learned it’s not hard to wash a check; it can be done with simple acetone, correction fluid, or bleach. It’s a hugely popular crime, costing banks 1.1 billion dollars a year. And once the bad guys have your account number, they can do a lot of damage quickly—I was lucky they only took $700 from my account.

I can see the appeal of this form of theft. It doesn’t involve breaking into a home or business. It poses little risk of injury from a victim fighting back. It’s remarkably easy—the perfect crime for a lazy thief.  And it’s so prevalent, I suspect that MANY culprits are never caught. Again, very little risk.

If you know me, you know where my mind is going at this point. Oh yeah, we’ll see a check washer in my next novel, or the one after that.  I love developing criminals who are more gray than black and white—I want the reader to connect with the “bad guy” and even sympathize with them. A check washer could be someone who could never rob a victim with a gun, because it would make them feel guilty. They can rationalize check theft as a crime against an institution (since banks end up paying) not their fellow human being. And thus, they are gray. Not all bad, but bad enough.

Juicy stuff for a writer.

I also researched ways to prevent this kind of crime, because I don’t want to EVER have it happen again. Here’s what I learned. 1) DON’T LEAVE CHECKS IN YOUR MAILBOX, even if you don’t raise the flag on it. Hand them to your mail carrier or take them to the post office to mail. (Since my family carries a post office- avoidant gene—seriously, we’d rather visit a dentist than a post office--- this will stretch me).  2) Do more banking on-line and write fewer paper checks. 3) Monitor your accounts. Religiously. It only takes a few seconds and, if there is a problem, the sooner you know it the better!  

Have you ever been a victim of theft? How did you handle it? Did the event sneak into your writing? 


Kait said...

Carla, that is frightening, especially as it sounds so easy! The processes of having to restore your accounts are exhausting, made worse by the unfairness of it all. Hope this is the last you hear of the incident (other than using it in a book). I'm with you on trips to the post office.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Our new neighbor installed a locked mailbox. She has a key and I assume the postal carrier does too. Occasionally, I see a locked package container on a front porch, which makes a lot of sense.

My husband drops our outgoing mail in the secure box at his lab.

carla said...

I am allll about secure boxes now!

Grace Topping said...

Good post, Carla. Sorry that you experienced this. Our community, which has strict rules about having standard mailboxes has given an okay to a locking mailbox. If enough people go this route, it will help cut down on the number of stolen checks but also slow down mail delivery if the mail handler has to unlock all those boxes. Shame that it comes to this.

Warren Bull said...

I have ben scammed. It was most unpleasant. It helped remind me that anyone can become a target.

Gloria Alden said...

Like Warren, I was scammed by someone supposed to be with Microsoft. Why I fell for it I don't know. Maybe because my whole computer screen came up with Microsoft and a voice telling me I'd been hacked. I ended up having to get a new bank account.

As for mailing checks, some of my accounts are automatically paid through my bank accounts, but others who don't have the same amount every month - electric, gas, etc. I pay by a check in the mail. I don't worry about it too much because I live on a state highway in the country with lots of big tucks and cars going by, and I don't put it out until it's almost time for the mail lady to come. There's almost never anyone walking down the road except maybe a teenager walking home from school long after the mail has been picked up. If I'm going on an errand, I drop it off at my post office a mile down the road.