KPRC 2 Investigates: Criminals steal money from bank accounts

What you should know about check fraud

When thieves intercept checks you’ve written, forge signatures to cash them, and steal your money… it’s not always easy to get help. In many cases, the victim of the fraud is out thousands of dollars even though their bank cashed the forged or fraudulent checks.

Our KPRC 2 Investigates team is getting answers about who is ultimately liable.

Check fraud victim mailed a check to the IRS

75-year-old Emanuel has perfected his green thumb in his retirement. Spending time in his West Houston garden is relaxing.

What’s not relaxing are the nearly two years that he’s spent trying to get his money back from Chase bank.

KPRC 2 Investigates check fraud. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

“I sent off over $13,270 to the IRS; and it was for my taxes,” said Emanuel.

In July 2020 Emanuel mailed a check to the IRS. The payment was early and he even made a copy before he sent it.

When he received his monthly statement from Chase, he saw that the check had cleared.

“The only thing that I have on the statement was the date, the check number, and the amount of the check. So as far as I knew, the IRS had received the check,” he explained.

But five months later, the IRS told Emanuel it never received the money. When he went to Chase to investigate, an employee showed Emanuel a copy of the check he had written to the feds.

The check they had was made out to someone else and Emanuel’s signature was different.

“That’s not my signature. So I don’t understand how Chase is able to remove money from my account. With a signature that is not mine, it was misspelled,” said Emanuel.

KPRC 2 Investigates check fraud. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

He filed a police report, filled out an affidavit with Chase, and waited. But after Chase investigated a representative told Emanuel he wouldn’t get his money back because he had waited too long to report the fraud.

They sent him an account agreement that reads, “if you fail to notify us of any unauthorized check within 30 days we are not required to reimburse you.”

“100% impossible for me to have known within 30 days of what had happened,” he said.

And Emanuel is not alone.

Stan Dorak waited months for Chase to return more than $6,000 from check fraud on his account.

“So they accepted a check that was unendorsed,” said Stan Dorak.

After we shared Dorak’s story earlier this year, we got a lot of emails from other people who had the same thing happen to them.

Another viewer wrote to report the $25 check he mailed to St. Jude in November was washed and made out to someone else for $7,800. He had been waiting to get that money back for more than two months.

What you can do if you are a check fraud victim

KPRC 2 Investigates check fraud. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

If you are a victim of check fraud, first file a police report. The Houston Police has a fraud division dedicated to investigating check fraud in our area.

We discovered by law, or the lack of one, banks can take months to conduct an investigation.

The federal agency that regulates banks is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. They say:

Generally, a bank is liable for accepting a check that has been forged, altered, or improperly endorsed. However, the bank may not be liable if it accepted the check in good faith, and the customer’s failure to exercise ordinary care substantially contributed to an alteration or forgery.

The law gives banks a whole lot of leeway in deciding when and when not to return a customers’ money. But if this happens to you, you should file a written complaint with the office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

You can also ask your bank to send you statements with images of the checks on the statement. This way, you can make sure the checks were cashed by the right person.

Good news, when we reached out to Chase about the customers who contacted us still waiting on their money the bank did give those funds back, including Emanuel’s more than $13,000 he’s been waiting on since 2020.

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.