Monday, January 17, 2011
Help Me Howard: Stolen Checks
Her checkbook was stolen, the checks were cashed and the bank says she has to pay. Shouldn't they reimburse her? Howard has the answers.
WSVN -- Technically, Carmen Burd is the mother of eight. But in reality, she is the mother to many more, like her niece Theresa.
Theresa Schimanski, Niece: "More like a daughter.
Carmen Burd, Checks Stolen: "I used to take care of her when she was a baby. That's how old I am."
Carmen's Miami house is open to her kids, grandkids and even animals that drop by. Nice, till it caused a problem.
Carmen Burd: "Somebody stole my checkbook, and they've been writing a lot of checks, but I didn't know nothing about it."
Carmen kept her checkbook in a bedroom drawer and didn't know the checks were gone till she went to buy groceries with her debit card.
Theresa Schimanski: "And when she went to pay, the card was declined three times. That's when I called the bank and realized her account was negative $1,468.40."
Carmen Burd: "I threw a fit. I started crying, really."
Someone had written one check for $180 and five more checks for $300 to an Oliver Salguerro. Each was forged with Carmen's signature.
Theresa Schimanski: "Oliver Salguerro. We do not know this person. We don't know him."
The bank cashed the forged checks. Carmen then closed that account, opened a new one, filed a police report and a complaint with the bank, which then sent Carmen this letter, telling her, "Too bad."
Theresa Schimanski: "Research revealed that your failure to exercise ordinary care substantially contributed to the making of the forgery. Therefore, your request for reimbursement has been denied."
Carmen had been honest with the bank and told them one of her sons had a drug problem. The police couldn't find out who stole her checks, but a bank official told her it might have been her troubled son. Carmen doesn't believe it.
Carmen Burd: "He swears on my father's grave that he didn't do it."
Theresa Schimanski: "I don't think he did it. I really don't think he did."
Carmen Burd: "He swears on my father's grave. He was crying. I don't believe it."
The bank told Carmen she had to reimburse them the $1,680 for the forged checks. Carmen didn't have the money, so when her social security check was direct deposited, the bank seized it, leaving her no money for the month.
Carmen Burd: "I had to borrow money to pay my light bill, yeah, 'cause they were going to shut them off."
Carmen was the victim of a crime. The bank cashed the stolen checks for the crooks. So Howard, can they blame Carmen and force her to cover the checks?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "Yes, they can. While banks are responsible if they cash a forged check, customers also have a responsibility to protect their blank checks from being used. So if the bank believes the customer was not careful enough, they can refuse to reimburse you."
When we talked to a spokesperson with the bank, they told us they could not discuss a customer's personal banking information. They just sent a short statement telling us the same thing they wrote to Carmen: "Our investigation determined that the customer did not exercise reasonable care with her checks based on information she provided."
Howard says that just gives Carmen one option.
Howard Finkelstein: "You can take them to small claims court, and you don't need a lawyer. And the advantage to the customer: the bank has to prove that you were negligent, and in this case, that would be hard to do, so the judge could give Carmen all her money back or some of it."
Carmen doesn't know if she will sue the bank, but she is sure of one thing: she will probably never know who cashed her checks.
Carmen Burd: "I wish I knew who it was."
Theresa Schimanski: "Believe me."
Patrick Fraser: "What do you do if your checks are stolen? Notify the bank immediately, which Carmen did; contact the police, which Carmen did. Should the bank have cashed the forged checks? No. Bottom line: you can't force the bank to reimburse you, but a judge can."
Overdrawn your patience with a problem? Want to check for a solution? Forge ahead and contact us. We don't know if you can cash in, but you can take our advice to the bank.