Great story about a guy who gets $100,000 from a junk check - read

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by graaaeme10, Dec 27, 2006.

  1. graaaeme10

    graaaeme10 Guest

    I found this story posted by someone over at Facepunch forums, I read it, and I felt I had to share it with you guys. No credit goes to me, I just copied and pasted it.

    Just take a while to read this thing, it's quite long but a great story.

    This is a page with the story on it, or just read it here:

    Part One

    On May 19th, I was one of thousands of people around the country who received a 'junk mail' letter touting a get-rich quick method for making $95,093.35 in just three weeks. That letter also came with a for the same amount, $95,093.35. Everything about the check looked real except for the words 'non-negotiable for cash' typed on the top right hand corner.

    For very little reason at all I deposited this check into my ATM. It was fun, like putting monopoly money into the bank. I walked home picturing a bank teller opening my deposit envelope and chuckling upon the sight of the ridiculously large, and obviously a sample, check. I fully expected that on Monday morning someone from my bank would call and say, 'Mr. Combs, the check you deposited on Friday wasn't real.'

    On Monday when they didn't call, I figured they were mailing the check back to me and I forgot about the whole thing. Then two days later, while withdrawing $40, my ATM produced a receipt that stated my balance at over one hundred thousand dollars! Suddenly, I remembered the $95,093.35 deposit.

    I walked briskly and excitedly home. As soon as I got in I called a friend and told them what'd happened. He made a quick phone call to his own bank and called me back: "It's standard policy to credit your account for any amount you deposit, but it's only a credit. You can't touch the money unless the check clears." Of course -- It was just a matter of days before the bank would erase the credit and return my account to a mere $5,000.

    For the next two days I called my bank for my account balance. It remained over a hundred grand.

    Friday morning I again called for my account balance. Still no change. Curiosity kicked in. I went to my bank, approached a teller, and posed this question: "If I need a cashiers check for $70,000 later this afternoon do I have the funds available?"

    The teller typed my account number into her computer and said, "Yes, the money is available." -- I got out of the bank fast. And I felt supercharged with possibility and shock.

    From that moment until the next Wednesday when I boarded a plane for a four day career-counseling conference in Orlando FL(I make my living as an author and speaker addressing career success), $95,093.35 was available for withdrawal from my account. My close friends and I contemplated, for fun, all the possibilities a hundred grand afforded. "To Leave the Country or Not To Leave -- That is the question."

    I knew that the money was going to be taken out of my account -- and each day I figured it would happen tomorrow. I boarded my flight to Orlando confident, and glad, that in all likelihood the money would be gone upon my return. It had already possessed my thoughts for a week.

    On Monday, the day after my return, I called for my account balance. Five thousand and something dollars was what I expected to hear. No such luck. "What's happening here!!!"

    Two weeks and that money was still sitting in my account. "It will be gone tomorrow," I kept telling myself for the next five days. Then on Friday, exactly three weeks since I had deposited the sample check I, again, returned to the bank. I approached a bank teller at the special Customer Service window, and I sternly stated: "I recently deposited $95,000 and I don't want to spend any of the money if there is the possibility of the check being returned. How long should I wait?"

    Again the teller keyed in my account number. Then she said, "$95,093.35 deposited on May 21st. You're safe to spend that money now because that check can no longer be returned. Depositors are protected by a law that says checks cannot be returned after 10 business days." I couldn't believe my ears. I couldn't believe my luck. I couldn't believe what was happening to me. On my way out of the bank, I grabbed every brochure and pamphlet that vaguely implied it might contain the law she had just referenced and I went home and read voraciously.

    My reading didn't reveal the law I was looking for. Quickly I learned that bank brochures don't tell you your rights -- they tell you all the bank's rights. (Some of which I found quite interesting). But at the end of one of the brochures I found a reference that said, "For more information contact, The Office of Thrift Supervision." (O.T.S)

    I called the O.T.S. and a man answered the phone. I gave my first name only and I gave him a quick synopsis of what had transpired. He treated my story with a cool intrigue. He told me that the ten day law the teller had mentioned was known as "The Midnight Deadline." But he suggested that the more important legal question had to do with "negotiability." He wondered if the check I deposited was a true negotiable instrument. He said, "The banking law book, Bradys, has specific criteria that a check has to match in order to qualify as legal negotiable instrument. I'm not sure what they are but if the check you deposited was actually a negotiable instrument that would explain why your bank passed it."

    Within three hours I had found my way to the Hasting's Law Library and to the book, Brady on Bank Checks - The Law of Bank Checks
    by Henry Bailey and Richard Hagedorn .

    Uuggh! Reading a big thick law book. Suddenly I knew why law students always looked so beat and tired. I didn't know how I was going to find anything in the monstroserous tome in front of me, and then my eyes caught sight of a small pocket sized book titled, Negotiable Instruments and Check Collection . It was a heaven sent guide for laymen. And plain as day, it listed the nine criteria for a negotiable instrument. I flipped it open and as if by magic, I found myself staring at a page that read, "The Nine Criteria for a Negotiable Instrument." I dove in reading with ferocious intensity.

    The first eight criteria went my way. Things like, must have a signature, a date, the words "pay to," - all the things you expect to see on a check. The check I deposited had all the right features however it also carried the words "non-negotiable" in the top right hand corner. Hopefully the ninth point would address this. It said, "The ninth issue is whether people can create an instrument that matches the first eight criteria, and then avoid negotiability by declaring on the instrument that it is not negotiable."

    I took a deep breath. The roulette wheel was spinning to a stop, giving me a fifty-fifty chance at a hundred grand. I began reading the next sentence slower than any sentence I've read in my life, my finger uncovering one word at a time. "No, give me the word no," I said to myself.


    "The... answer... is... ...yes."

    Wham. Ugh. Game over.

    Any fantasies I had about the $95,000 dollars fizzled. But then, I moved my finger a micro-inch further, and saw a comma. "The answer is yes, except on a check." It went on:

    "A declaration on a check that it is not negotiable is ineffective.? The meaning of this sunk in quickly - I was the luckiest S.O.B. alive. The get-rich-quick company had accidentally designed a real check - and I had deposited it!

    Part Two

    I called my brother and asked him what to do. We both agreed that law or no law, someone would be coming for the money. My brother suggested that I get the entire amount in cash and put it into a safe deposit box at my bank. "Why?" I asked. "Picture walking into the vault, going behind the curtain and opening a box full with $95,000 cash. It'll be fun to look at. How many times in your life are you going to have $95,000 cash in a safety deposit box?!" he said.

    I liked the idea. It seemed like it couldn't hurt since the money would never leave my bank. So I began asking about safe deposit boxes. Five First Interstate branches later I'd learned that only small safe deposit boxes were available. Too small to hold that much cash.

    How I learned those boxes would be too small to hold that much cash is kinda funny. I asked a teller if the bank could get me a hundred thousand dollars in cash if I needed it. The teller broke out in a chuckle and said, "Nobody's ever done that in the 15 years I've been working." "But if I wanted to, can you get me that much cash?" I reasserted. The teller's chuckle turned to a touch of nervousness and she replied, "We'd have to tell the IRS and order it four days in advance. But nobody's ever done that." "You'd have to order it four days in advance and notify the IRS?" I asked for clarification. "Yes because we don't keep that much cash on hand. The largest bill in circulation now is the $100 bill-- there are no more $500 bills in circulation. And we have to report any cash withdrawals in excess of $10,000." I left contemplating just how much money $95,000 was and I arrived at this: one thousand dollars a month for eight years.

    The next day, June 13, I woke up and decided that if I couldn't look at cash, it would be almost as fun to look at a cashier's check. I got in my car and drove to the California Street Branch Office of my bank, because it is the bank's showcase branch -- cathedral ceilings, marble floors, towering columns and gold trim, and -- located in the heart of San Francisco's skyscraper district.

    First I approached the Customer Service window and filled out the form for a fifty dollar a year, small safe deposit box. Then I went to a teller's window. I didn't want to say $95,093.35 out loud. It felt scary. So I asked the teller for a piece of paper. I wrote $95,093.35 on it, passed it to her and said, "I'd like to get this amount in a cashier's check." Without saying a word she began moving quickly to grab papers and forms and she rushed out the words, "You need to write me a check." She was bothered and I could barely think -- I didn't know what she was asking me to do. "I've never gotten a cashier's check before. What do you want me to do?" "Write me a check for the same amount," she said. I understood and began to write out the check. Suddenly I was daunted by having to write out $95,093.35. I had never written it out in words before and I wasn't sure I'd be able to... ninety five thousand ninety three dollars and 35 cents. That was the biggest number I'd ever written into the suddenly small space they give you on a check.

    It probably only took her two minutes to prepare the cashier's check. It seemed like twenty. Her manager approved it and she slid it across the counter to me. I put my hand on it to take it, but she didn't let go. What was she doing? She looked me in the eye and said, "What are you going to do with this money?" I said back instantly and slowly, "I don't know." Still holding the check she said, "Are you going to invest it?" "No," I replied. "Would you like to speak with one of our investment counselors right now? They can suggest excellent uses for the money." Finally I understood why she'd been short with me the entire transaction. Banks get upset when you withdraw a lot of money from them. "No thank you," I ended.


    I walked straight back to Customer Service and was escorted into the vault. The bank teller slid my box out and pointed me to the curtain I could go behind for privacy. "No need," I said and I slipped the folded check from out of my jeans pocket and into the metal container. The minute I stepped out of my bank and on to the street just below the TransAmerican Pyramid Tower, my whole body raced with the strangest feeling -- like I was ten feet taller and twice as fast, and suddenly cable of superpowers. As I headed to my car I slipped a ninety five thousand ninety three dollar and 35 cents safety deposit box key onto my key ring.

    Read on...
  2. graaaeme10

    graaaeme10 Guest

    Part Three

    One week after I put the cashier's check into the safe deposit box and thirty-three days after I deposited the advertising check, three people from my bank called and flooded my voice mail with messages that said it was "very important" and "very urgent" that I return their calls "as soon as possible." One person was a man from my branch office. (One of the calls was from my branch office, one from the Los Angeles headquarters, and one from an officer in the security department).

    That evening I put my bank card into an ATM to get some cash for dinner. The ATM ate my card and on the screen, green words glowed, "Card Confiscated. Contact Your Branch Office."

    The next morning I was up at 5:30 am to catch a flight to New York to begin a three week vacation I had scheduled over a month ago. My flight had a short stopover in Seattle at about 10:00 am and I used the time to return the bank's calls. I decided to return them in the order that they had been received, so first I called Jerry Jarvis, the person from my branch office.

    (All of the conversations below are written out as I remembered them shortly afterwards. They are however, not verbatim. In addition, the names are changed to protect people.)

    ME: "I'm calling for Jerry Jarvis."
    FI: "I'm sorry, he's not in today. Can I take a message?"
    ME: "Yes, please tell him Patrick Combs called."
    FI: "OH!! Hold a second, please."

    A different woman began speaking to me.
    HER: "You got a cashiers check from us for $93,095.35 that we need back. Can you bring me the cashiers check today?"
    ME: "With whom am I speaking?"
    HER: "This is Sharon from customer service."
    ME: "Sharon who?"
    HER: "Sharon Kempner."
    ME: "And what is your title Sharon?"
    HER: "Customer service manager -- can you bring me that check?"
    ME: "I can't. I'm in Boston till July 6."
    HER: "Where is the check?"
    ME: "It's in a safe deposit box."
    HER: "Does someone else have a key?"
    ME: "NO."
    HER: "When do you come back?"
    ME: "July 6th. I can give you the money then. Sharon, how did this matter come to your attention?"
    HER: "The check came back insufficient funds."
    ME: "I was worried it might, but I was told at some point by a F.I. manager that by law it could no longer be returned."
    HER: "Well that's wrong. It can come back for a full year. I'd like to know who told you that. Do you remember who it was?"
    ME: "No."
    HER: "What kind of check is this?"
    ME: "Have you seen the check?"
    HER: "Yes, I'm holding it in my hand."
    ME: "It's a junk mail check"
    HER: "I thought that's what it was. Why did you deposit this check? It clearly has the words 'Non-negotiable' marked across the top right edge of the check. I don't know why you deposited this check. Were you just experimenting?"
    ME: "I don't know.... How do you think this happened -- that it was accepted by three banks?"
    HER: "I don't know but you need to give the cashiers check back. You shouldn't have done this."
    ME: "I'll give it back to you when I return -- I just can't understand how this happened."

    Somewhere around here our phone call ended politely, with her seemingly satisfied that I was going to bring the money back.

    It was time to board the plane again, but I had another stop over in Chicago. I used that stop over to return the next two calls. I called Frances at the bank's L.A headquarters. This conversation was very brief. She said she'd heard that everything was OK -- I was going to give back the money. I got her full name and title, although she didn't like giving it to me: Frances Ferrera, Branch Operations Support. Apparently she was in on this because someone called her and asked her the 'official bank policy and procedure' for what to do when a bank accidentally cashes a check $95,093.35 with the words "non-negotiable" on the front.

    Now it was time to call, Robert Gage, First Interstate Security Officer. He took my call no problem (funny how you don't have to maze your way through time wasting voice mail systems when you've got a chunk of their change). Robert is an older man with a very gruff, cop's voice. HE WAS NOT A HAPPY CAMPER.

    Immediately he informed me he was 'on the case' and what he wanted was THE CASHIER'S CHECK NOW. When I asked him how he thought this could have happened, he let me know loudly that, he didn't care a bit WHY First Interstate bank would have cashed a junk mail check, because this was a matter of fraud!

    He'd heard I was out of town so he proceed to drill me with possible ways to get the check back now:

    HIM: "Can you fly back to return the check right now?"
    ME: "No Sir.
    HIM: "Then could someone else open the box?"
    ME: "No Sir. I'm the only one on the signature card."
    HIM: "Then, will you give me permission to drill the box?"
    ME: "No Sir."
    HIM: "So you won't cooperate!"
    ME: "Yes I will. As soon as I get back on July 6th."
    HIM: "Why won't you give me permission to drill the box?"
    ME: "Because it would be irresponsible of me. You say you're from First Interstate Bank and that the check was returned, but I haven't received anything in writing. I feel responsible for the money now and I feel like I should receive an official letter from my bank."
    HIM: "You're not getting any letter! This phone call is all you're getting and it's all I have to give you!! You committed bank check fraud when you got a cashier's check for money you knew wasn't yours. And this isn't about $100 or $10,000. We're talking about a $100,000 dollars!! Almost $100,000! If you don't return that money what you're going to get is policemen on your door!! Now will you give me permission to drill the box!"
    ME: "No Sir."

    Up until then our conversation was excruciating! It took a turn for the better, meaning he lightened up a lot, when I told him, "I have not, nor do I intend to spend a cent of that money. And I have no intention of keeping money that doesn't belong to me." As a matter of fact, it warmed him up so much that he said if I would agree to call him on July 6th, the minute I got home, no matter what the hour (he gave me his home number and his pager number), then he wouldn't take further action. Plus he said he'd comply with my request to unfreeze my bank account so that checks I had written wouldn't bounce.

    That conversation left my mind racing for days...

    Part Four

    I arrived in New York still quite shook up from the telephone call with the Security Officer. The words 'fraud' and 'policemen' and 'not willing to cooperate' kept echoing in my head. I decided it was time to learn my rights.

    A few quick phone calls to law schools and I had a list of Bay Area lawyers who specialized in banking and checks. I decided to call Manuel Fields first because of his specialty, check fraud.

    I told Manuel my first name and asked him if I could tell him my situation to determine whether or not I needed a lawyer. "Sure" he said. I told him the entire story (without mentioning the amount of the junk mail check). He laughed a bit and asked, "Exactly how much was this check for??" I was really hesitant to tell a lawyer the astronomical amount, but I couldn't lie so I said, "$95,093.35." Next, for what seemed like a full minute, all I heard was a man laughing very very hard. "I'm sorry," he said after he completed his laugh. "I've just never heard of anything like this."

    Manuel went on to inform me of things that further amazed and intrigued me:

    * According to Commercial Paper Law the money was now legally mine, because all checks are first assumed to be valid -- and the way a bank invalidates a check is by serving the depositor with a timely notice of dishonor. Considering that it took my bank 33 days to tell me my check had been returned, he did not think they had dishonored the check in time.

    * Fraudulent checks ARE a different manner. But he said, "Since you deposited the check 'thinking there was no chance it would cash, and without even endorsing it' -- you didn't commit fraud."

    * Getting the cashier's check was also not an act of fraud, since the bank had previously assured me the check could no longer be returned.

    * There are two practices of law as seen through the eyes of a court: (1) Black Letter of Law, where the court rules strictly by the law (and I would be awarded the money) and (2) Chancery Courts, also known as Courts of Compassion, where the court disregards the law when it is deemed non-sensical. He said that, "Easily a court could disregard the law and give the money back to the bank because really you have no claim to this money from an equitable sense of the law." And then he added, "And when it's an individual vs. a Bank, I'm sorry to say that courts usually side with the bank."

    We agreed to speak again the next day.

    When I called him I continued to protecting my anonymity by giving my first name only. It all felt so spy-like. I spoke very little and listened carefully. It had been 24 hours since we first spoke and he had these comments to add:

    * I definitely didn't commit fraud because I didn't consummate an act of fraud. I had not cashed the check. But it could be perceived that I attempted to fraud the bank. Proving I had not would require a legal deposition that detailed what I was thinking when I made the deposit and what expectations I had about what I'd do if the money showed up in my account.

    * The burning question now (for legal purposes) was, 'WHERE did the money come from?' He presumed the bank in Ohio (The get-rich-quick company's home state), was the bank that was minus $95,093.35. And he stated that they would have to eat the loss if they hadn't sent the check back to my bank on time.

    We ended the conversation with no plans to speak again.

    The next part of my vacation was at my brother's house in Boston. It was a two week family get-together -- my mom and God son were also there. We spent very little time talking about the money, but when we did everyone thought it was an amusing incident, everyone except my Mom. It stressed her out a lot. She worried that the bank would get meaner and meaner, and that they might try to throw me in jail. One day I jokingly told her I was going to buy her a Lexus with presents in the back. She smiled for an instant and then she pinched my arm and said, "You better not!"

    My Mother helped me a considerable amount. One day I went into my brother's home office. I was upset because I had requested a photocopy of the check from my bank and instead they had sent me a photocopy of someone else's $6.71 check. I wanted to see what the sample check I had deposited looked like. It seemed like my only option was to call the Security Officer with my request. But then my Mom came in and pulled up a chair next to me. After hearing what I wanted, she said, "Patrick you don't have to speak to a Security Officer about this. Call the President of the Bank. Haven't I taught you to deal with VIP's?! They're the ones with true power." And then, as I tried to reach the President of First Interstate Bank by phone, my Mom just sat there giving me strength.

    It took many phone calls (more than it should!) to find out the name and number of the President, and when I did call for Bill Siart, I was told that the Consumer Affairs Department was as close as you can get. I reached the manager of the department and said, "I have a problem with my branch office and I'm looking for help. I want to resolve this amicably, without a lawyer, but I'm having a lot of trouble speaking with anyone who wants to help me handle this fairly." Instantly the manager became helpful. I requested a photocopy of the front and the back of the check and an official letter from the bank. When I told her that Robert Gage in Security had denied me a letter, she recognized Gage as someone high up in Security, and she assured me she would call him and see if it was possible for me to get such a letter. She lived up to her promise because by the next day Robert Gage was faxing the things I requested to me in Boston.

    What arrived by fax was a surprise. It was incredible to see the and back of the check. I had not remembered just how real it looked -- and it was actually the first time that I could confirm that it in fact matched all nine criteria for a negotiable instrument. Up until then I had just been working from memory.


    But what really surprised me was the 'official letter' from my bank stating the check's return. What came out of the fax machine wasn't any sort of letter from my bank -- it was a memo from First Chicago Bank -- and it was a piece of the puzzle of how this whole thing could have happened.


    The memo (which had the amount of my check on one line and the word 'non-negotiable' circled on another) had a name and phone number for an Account Adjuster on it. I decided to call. My brother always says, "More information is always good."

    I reached the man on who had written the memo. I explained to him who I was and why I was calling. He explained that the memo I now possessed was the notice of dishonor that he sent to my bank about the $95,093.35 check. On the same day that he sent the memo, his bank also reclaimed $95,093.35 from my bank. So MY bank was out the money! "Yes," he confirmed. "All the other bank's involved have recovered their money."

    Suddenly it dawned on me, this memo was dated June 5th. That's the day my bank learned that the check had been dishonored. Why they waited until June 21st to notify me was a mystery, especially considering that legally they were supposed to notify me by Midnight of June 6th! No doubt about it now, my bank had made a big mistake -- AND they faxed me a memo to prove it!

    At the end of the conversation this man did me another big favor, he obliged my request for the names of the other banks involved. He didn't even mind telling me who I should ask for directly and what item number I should reference.

    From calling the other banks involved I learned the movement of the check and the details of the fiasco. I deposited the check on Friday, May 19th. On Monday, May 21st it was overlooked by my bank and sent onto the bank in Chicago that was acting as a clearinghouse. It was again overlooked there. The next day, on May 22rd, it was sent onto the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland OH and this bank rejected the check, calling it a 'non-cash' item (Whether or not it SHOULD have been rejected as a 'non-cash' item is questionable in my mind considering what I learned about the meaninglessness of the words 'non negotiable' on a check, but that's what the FED said). Take note that the FED Bank rejected the check within 48 hours of when it left my bank. The check was then routed to the get-rich-quick company's bank in Cleveland. The Cleveland bank says they sent a notice of dishonor immediately to the bank in Chicago. I cannot confirm when the Cleveland bank actually sent their notice of dishonor, but I do know that the bank in Chicago sent my bank notice of dishonor on June 5th.

    I've read that bank computers are programmed to bring special attention to checks above $500. Can anyone tell me why any bank would delay attending to a dishonored $95,093.35 check with the words 'non-negotiable' on the face, when they know they have a Midnight Deadline?? If you're Commander of the NASA control room, and you notice a disastrous leak five minutes before the shuttle launches, that is something you attend to immediately. (I know, bad analogy).

    Back to the story. After learning the path of the check, I made an entry into my journal:

    Read on....
  3. graaaeme10

    graaaeme10 Guest

    The bank knows they made a big mistake. But instead of calling me and explaining their mistake, they called and bullied me with scare tactics, "banking" on my being ignorant and fearful. Apparently they feel they're powerful enough to avoid admitting to their mistakes and powerful enough to deny me even the right to fair treatment -- refusing to even send me a letter about this. I don't think they're that powerful."

    Part Five

    July 6th came and I had an obligation to call Robert Gauge from First Interstate Security. But I had not returned to San Francisco as originally planned -- and I was not planning on giving the money back when I did return.

    It was the single hardest phone call I've ever made in my life. I put it off all day, until 10:30 pm at night. Then it took me a full hour to psyche myself up enough to be ready. My God son (a twenty-two year old college senior) and my mother sat across the dining room table in silent support. The last thought in my mind before picking up the phone was a self test: Is this worth being falsely accused with criminal charges? I could just call him and say, 'I'm going to give you the money back,' but deep down, I wanted to stand up for myself.

    I picked up the phone and paged him. Then I sat and waited for him to call back. I hated the waiting. I was scared to death. It went painfully, painfully slow..... Then the phone rang. I looked into my God son's eyes and then into my Mother's and then picked up the phone.

    I said to him (almost verbatim):

    "I'm calling you back as I promised. I'm extending my stay in Boston. And I need to inform you that upon my return I don't intend to give the money back, unless we reach a different agreement. I'm going to explain why.

    I've received no official notices from First Interstate making a legal claim to the money. And no one has explained to me why I should give it back. Everyone, except you, has advised me that the money is legally mine. I was told by a First Interstate teller that the check money was safe to spend because a law protected me from it coming back after 10 days. I've been advised that according to commercial paper law, the money became mine when First Interstate didn't serve me with a timely notice of dishonor. And that a check is not made non-negotiable by printing the words non-negotiable on the front.
    Now, unless we reach some other agreement I intend to keep the money."

    At this point he said in a nice tone of voice, "Where do we go from here?" Up until that moment, he just let me speak. I had imagined that he would explode as soon as he heard me exert that I was going to keep the money and that he would say, "I'm putting a warrant out for you arrest. We can talk in court." But he didn't. He listened, only trying lightly to cut in but quickly turning back when I continued to speak without pause.

    I started speaking again.

    "I'm upset and I'll tell you why:

    * I've been a customer of First Interstate for over 10 years, and instead of calling me and treating me like a customer of over 10 years, right away you called me and treated me like a criminal.
    * You chose to freeze my account, even when you knew the money in question was not in my bank account.
    * ATM machines confiscated by ATM card and as a result, any time I've wanted to do anything on my vacation, I've had to borrow money from my friends and family. It's humiliating.
    * Then after you gave me your word that you'd correct the lock down on my account, an ATM machine ate the bank card my mother uses -- and she uses that card to get medicine and food money from my account. It has left her worrying that her son is in financial trouble.
    * You promised me documentation of insufficient funds and instead I got some memo from another bank.

    When I finished, Robert (with the utmost respect) primarily said only two things: 1) He apologetically promised to get me an official letter and to see if my ATM cards could be replaced. 2) He tried to politely explain away all of the legal claims I had made to the money. He went from telling me that, although I was quoting from the same law book he uses, none of the laws were applicable because mine was not a check, but an advertisement (apparently he hasn't read the negotiability chapter) -- to telling me that it was understandable that the bank had taken 33 days to dishonor the check because it was an out of state check that had to go ALL the way to Chicago. (He meant by horse and buggy I presume).

    The most interesting moment for me came when he asserted, "It's the people who make these check who should go to jail, because they are the ones trying to mislead people." (I agreed with his sentiment, but think jail's a bit harsh. I would like to see this whole thing result in a new rule called, The, 'If You Make It Look Like a Check, You Make It Pay Like a Check' law.)

    Robert and I spoke for nearly an hour. He remained throughout, absolutely and incredibly polite. I would calmly and firmly reassert my rights and then he would politely try to explain them away.

    To my surprise, he never made any requests of me -- not even demanding to know when I would return. He kept returning to the two things he was going to do for me next. AND, the word 'fraud' or 'criminal' was never used.

    Three days later I was in the Boston airport getting ready to fly back to San Francisco. My mother and I had been talking a bit about my plans for dealing with the money and the conversation had made her stressed and weepy. When it was time for me to board the plane, she looked me in the eye and said, "Well, I won't tell you to not do things like this any more, because when you stop taking risks, your life gets boring. Just keep saying your prayers and I will too." I thought about that the whole way home.

    Part Six

    I arrived back in San Francisco and didn't hear back from First Interstate bank. No phone calls and no letters. Each day I expected to receive an official letter from the bank.

    My curiosity drove me back to the Law Library. This time I was determined to read and understand the big book, Brady on Bank Checks - The Law of Bank Checks by Henry Bailey and Richard Hagedorn. And this time, determination (or a coffee), made the difference because I knew what I was reading. I was reading a lot of laws, in black and white, that gave me a legal right to the money.

    I photocopied like a madman. I copied the Midnight Law , Finality of Payment and court case rulings that held it illegal for a bank to cancel a cashier's check . Then just before my brain went to mush and my photocopying change ran out, I read a footnote by the author that was in regards to the law that makes the words "non-negotiable" meaningless on a check. The author wrote,

    "The only problem with this approach is the use of blank sample check forms that bear language such as "void," or "non-negotiable" or "sample form" that is clearly intended to show that the particular sample or form is not intended as a valid check. Would potential liability exist if such a sample form is filled in without authority and passed to one who could take as a holder in due course? The 1990 provision might well be drafted to avoid such a possible problem."

    The author of Brady on Bank Checks saw this occurrence coming!! I had to tell him!

    I noted from the back of the book that both authors were once professors at Willamette University -- I called as soon as I got home. I didn't even have to call information for the number because I had recently delivered a lecture, based on my book, there. Only one of the authors, Richard Hagedorn, was still working there, the other had retired. I asked if I could speak with Mr. Hagedorn and was informed that he was on vacation for the week. My heart sunk like a stone. Then I got an idea. I said, "Is Henry enjoying his retirement?" "Yes he is," came the reply. "As a matter of fact he still keeps in touch with us on occasion." (I was in there!) I said, "I bet he retired to the beautiful state of Oregon. I'm from Oregon myself." And the golden ticket came back, "No, actually he retired to a small town in Providence, Rhode Island." In no time at all directory assistance was giving me a phone number for one Henry Bailey in Providence, Rhode Island.

    The phone rang 25 times before an elderly woman answered. I asked for Henry Bailey. She said just a minute and then the phone connection was lost. I tried calling back right away, but no answer no matter how many times I let it ring.

    So I called again the next day and after twenty or so rings, this time an elderly man answered -- and he was gruff! "Who is this?!" "What are you calling about?!" "Who are you?!!" "Are you a lawyer?!" "Are you a banker?!" "Are you with the press?!" "Then why are you calling me?!!"

    Finally I was able to express that I was a 29 year old calling because I was in the middle of the problem he had foreseen. I mentioned the UCC code about the words 'non-negotiable' and he turned on like a light, "Yes, I wrote about that problem in Brady and I published an article about it in Banking Law Journal. It was never like that in the 1962 code!"

    Our conversation progressed like this:

    ME: "I deposited an advertising check and ..."
    HIM: "Well, it sounds like you weren't being very honorable."
    ME: "I deposited it because I thought my bank would never accept it, but they did."
    HIM: "Well that doesn't necessarily make you a holder in due course.
    Did it have a name on it?"
    ME: "Yes Sir, it had my name on it."
    HIM: "Your name! Hmm.. Well did it have a signature on it?"
    ME: "Yes Sir, an authorized signature and an account number."
    HIM: "It did! .... Well these dummies deserve it! Was this check an advertisement?"
    ME: "YES! That's exactly what it was!!"
    HIM: "Oh, this sounds good. How much was it for?"
    ME: "Ninety five thousand."
    HIM: "Oh, this sounds really good! Well, when did the company call you?"
    ME: "The company didn't call me, my bank did. They said the check was returned as a 'non-cash item.'
    HIM: "When did you deposit the check and when did your bank notify you?"
    ME: "I deposited it on May 19 and my bank returned it on June 21."
    HIM: "Well if your bank delayed that long, you need to get a lawyer, because you have a legal claim to that money. Your bank has to meet a Midnight Deadline! You need to get a lawyer because that money is legally yours." (And he began citing many court cases and reiterating that I need to get a lawyer.)

    At the end of our conversation he said he was glad that I had called to tell him. It was an honor to speak with Henry Bailey. I greatly admire him for having seen this occurrence coming and I appreciate his having co-written a law book so good that even I could understand it, although when I said that to him he said, "I didn't write it to be used by the layman, I wrote it to be used by bankers and lawyers." (Not only are they reading it Mr. Bailey, but so are Security Officers).

    Read on... almost there
  4. graaaeme10

    graaaeme10 Guest

    Part Seven

    Somewhere along the line a friend of mine suggested that I had a national story for the media. The idea grew on me pretty fast. Everyone I told seemed to love the story. They'd put themselves into it and image what they would do under the same circumstances -- feeling and testing their own ethics and values. So I pictured it could be a national story about, "What would you do if you got a hundred thousand dollars by mistake?"

    I also pictured that the story could make waves. Waves that would prohibit false checks being sent in advertisements and waves that would improve the banking system. I found myself recalling the words of one of my college professors, "It's a rare opportunity to get to make or affect law in this country, but it does come knocking."

    On the other hand, I feared calling the media because I was scared that a story could very well ruin my career as an author and speaker. After three building years, my career is finally hitting stride, and if I don't do anything BUT stay out of trouble, it will only get better. People had told me that this story could be trouble. How would it look if the author of Major in Success was being sued for bank fraud??

    As for why I finally decided to call a newspaper, I can only tell you this: Deep down inside I felt like I hadn't done anything wrong. If people judged me differently it would be because they're different people with different values and different fears. Of the many lessons that I learned from this adventure, one of the greatest was this: Never let fear win.

    I decided to call the most prestigious newspaper in the country, The Wall Street Journal. It was July 13th. I called information and found the WSJ had a San Francisco bureau. When I called, a woman answered the phone. I asked her if I could speak to a reporter who writes features, explaining I might have a great story for the paper. "What's your story?" she asked. Figuring that if I could sell her she'd put me through to one of the reporters, I launched right into a brisk and upbeat telling of the story, and after about 15 seconds I could tell that I had her interest. When I finished she said, "That's a great story!! I'd love to write it. Hmmm... there's one consideration though... If we run this story there's going to be a lot of people who will try to copy cat what you did. Let me think about that and I'll ask my editor if I can take this as an assignment. Call me tomorrow. I'm Lynn Hazelwood."

    I got off the phone feeling like I had just been told that Christmas might be tomorrow! I couldn't stand the lack of assurance, and my mind flashed on, Kenny Goldstein, a young man I had recently interviewed who got his dream job writing for a newspaper. He earned it by boldly walking into the Chicago Times, without an appointment, to locate an editor who's name he had seen that morning on the Editorial page. When he found the editor (a feat in itself), he bravely pitched himself into a position as a writer. That was all the inspiration I needed, so I gathered my photocopies of the check and the laws, and I jumped into my car.

    The San Francisco Bureau of the Wall Street Journal is located in a skyscraper only one block from where my cashier's check was locked. I went up the elevator to the eleventh floor and exited right into the WSJ's tiny little lobby. I asked the receptionist if I could speak to Lynn Hazelwood and I told her my name. She phoned Lynn, stated my request, hung up the phone, and then said to me, "Have a seat and she'll be out in a minute." I didn't take long for Lynn to come walking around the corner. She looked friendly and extended her hand. Our interaction was brief. I gave her a small stack of photocopies and began by explaining that I was there so that she could see it all for herself.

    As I was standing there worried about whether she'd run the story, she said, "This is a really fun story. I'm going to do it." This was music to my ears and I said, "Then I won't call The New York Times back" (I had put in a call to them). "Don't talk to them. This is my story! I'm just waiting for our lawyers in New York to give me the OK on it. You don't want to give them this story. OK?!" she said. "OK," I said.

    I walked out of that skyscraper flying! Yeee-haw!!! Almost immediately, I began telling friends to watch for an article in the WSJ, any day now. Boy was I mistaken.

    The next day I anxiously waited for Lynn to call me. I wondered if she would need to speak with me again or if she would just write the story up based on our previous exchange. But, she didn't call me and at the day's end I called her. She heard my name and said, "I'm sorry I didn't call you. I haven't heard from the NY office yet. I've got to get on them. I'll call you tomorrow. I'm sure they'll approve it, so don't give this story to the Times, OK?" "OK," I replied. Patience is a virtue, I thought to myself.

    The next day was Friday. Several of my friends bought the WSJ expecting to see my story . I, on the other hand, knew it wasn't going to be in there and sat waiting for the reporter's call. She had promised. By 3 PM, I couldn't stand it and I called again. This time the receptionist informed me, that Lynn had already gone home for the weekend. !#@!

    Monday morning came and I called Lynn. Still, she hadn't heard back from NY, but not to worry she tried to assure me, "I'll call them this afternoon and get a reply. They should have answered by now."

    Tuesday at 11 AM arrived quickly and Lynn hadn't called. I was feeling crazy and my friends wanted to know when the story was going to run. I called Lynn. "Patrick, I'm glad you called. I was just going to call you. New York approved the story! They like it a lot," she said. These ten words instantly put my mind at ease and escalated my joy! Lynn went on to schedule a telephone interview with me on the forthcoming Friday.

    Friday arrived slowly, but Lynn phoned right on schedule. I had a pad of paper and pen handy for taking copious notes so that my friends could judge how the interview went. It was my friend Scott who was most interested in the interview, because Scott and I had spent a couple of dinners intensely discussing how to tell the story for maximum impact. (It was Scott who suggested that it would be a far better story, IF it ended without revealing what I planned on doing with the windfall money. We guessed that this might give the story a longer life. We hoped that this might give people an opportunity to really think about the issues. But at the end of each of our dinners, we knew it was all just guess work.)

    Lynn began the interview began innocently enough, but within the very first minute she turned on me. Suddenly she was no longer a friendly person listening to an entertaining story. Now she was a reporter out to discover if I was trying to defraud a bank out of ninety five thousand dollars. The first sign of trouble came with the very first question, which progressed somewhat like this:

    Lynn: "How long it was before you deposited this check, that you believed was real?"
    Me: [With surprise and shock] "I didn't think the check was real. I must admit I saw the words non-negotiable on it,"
    Lynn: [With suspicion] "You did.... Then why did you deposit it?"
    Me: "Because I thought it would NEVER cash."
    Lynn: [With even more suspicion] "Then why would you waste your time?"
    Me: "It didn't seem like a waste of time to me. It was Friday after 4 and my work week was over. I had to go to post office and the walk took me right past my bank, so it didn't strike me as a waste of time."
    Lynn: "So why did you deposit it again?"
    Me: "Simply because I thought it would never cash. I don't know if that makes sense to you, but to me it seemed like a fun and harmless act. After doing it, I walked home laughing to myself thinking, 'Now I have certainty in my life. Now I'm certain that on Monday I'll get a call from my bank saying, 'Mr. Combs, the check you deposited isn't real."
    Lynn: "OK, I don't quite understand but let's move along. Tell me what happened next."

    This kind of suspicious grilling was repeated in various forms throughout what became a grueling one hour interview. I felt like a prime suspect, fighting from the witness stand to save himself from an unfair jail sentence. The prosecuting questions kept coming: "You weren't trying to defraud the bank??" or "Again, why did you deposit the check?" and "Are you afraid the bank will bring criminal charges against you?"

    Not pleasant. By the time the interview ended I had an enormous knot in my stomach. I was worried sick that something had just gone VERY WRONG. I remembered the friends who had advised me NOT to tell the media about this story, because they warned that it would make me look bad. Instead, I had followed my own instincts that told me it was a positive story. Now, suddenly gripped by a doomed feeling that was overwhelming me and mental images of a damaging Wall Street Journal article, I needed help.

    Don't give up now..

  5. graaaeme10

    graaaeme10 Guest

    I called Scott and asked him to come over right after work to discuss the interview. "How did it go?" he wanted to know. "I'm not sure -- I need your opinion," I said trying not to bias him with the paranoia I was feeling... I had to wait a couple of hours for Scott to get off of work, and in the mean time nothing, not even a movie, could put my mind or stomach at ease.

    Hearing the reporter's questions worried Scott just as much. His reaction confirmed most of fears. Lynn had definitely been trying to get me to crack about fraudulent intentions. But, Scott pointed out something that I had overlooked. He pointed out that we were getting what we had tried for: Of course Lynn wondered if I was a good guy or a bad guy -- because intentionally I had constrained myself from saying NOTHING that would reveal if I intended to profit from the bank's mistake. When she asked me what I intended to do with the money, I replied, "I'm just waiting for a letter from my bank. They said they'd get me one."

    Besides than the sheer worry I acquired from doing the interview, there was something else I gained from it: Lynn told me that she had tried to get a comment from my bank, but they refused...

    Lynn had told me the article would probably run late the following week. A week seemed like an eternity to have to wait for the WSJ's verdict on my interview. I tried asking Lynn if I could see the story before it ran. "No Way," she replied. Hey, I tried.

    Wednesday, July 26 came and I called to see if my story was going to run soon. "Oh, I'm glad you reminded me," Lynn said, "I've still got to write it." What!!! Hadn't even written it yet??!! I just about lost it. "I'm going to do it. It's a fun story -- don't worry. I just need you to call me daily and put some pressure on me to get it done. " "I'm thinking that you're not really interested in the story and that maybe I should give it to another paper," I said. Lynn replied, " And it's good that you tell me you might give the story to someone else because I can use that to put pressure on my editors to run the story quickly. But don't give it away -- OK?! Things are just really busy around here and other stories that are time sensitive have to come first." I vowed to call her daily.

    To my pleasant surprise, the next day when I called she said, "I wrote it last night and it came out really well. It's really fun." (Music! Sweet music to my ears!!!!!) Lynn continued, "Now it has to be approved by the NY office. Hopefully they'll like it and won't carve it up too much." Still another gate to get through, but I was optimistic about having progressed to this point. Plus, the friendliness in Lynn's voice and the little things she would say like "fun," made me feel much safer about how the article would judge me.

    NY approved the story within a few days. As a matter of fact, Lynn reported that they loved the story and edited what she wrote, "hardly at all." It would run any day now, she told me. She told me to call her tomorrow to see if it was on the schedule. I called. It wasn't. "Call again tomorrow," she said. The next day was Tuesday August 1 and I called her. "Your story is on the schedule for tomorrow's paper!" she exclaimed. Then right before we ended the phone call she said, "Damn!" "What?!!" I questioned. "They took it off the schedule! It was on there this morning." She said it probably got bumped for a story that had been waiting to be ran, much longer than mine. " I'm sure it will run tomorrow. Call me," she said.

    The next day, it was not on the schedule. I suggested that I was seriously thinking of giving the story to another news agency. Lynn countered with, "NY is going to run my story any day now. I can't guarantee when, but it will happen unless you give it to someone else. If you do that my editors will kill my story." Again, I was left with only the hope that patience and persistence were the key's to success.

    The previous weekend I had begun to look for a back up plan to the WSJ, because with each day that they did not run my story, I felt more and more at their mercy. A realistic assessment of 'current reality' told me that they were still the best chance I had of getting the story into the news, BUT just in case, I had to start on a back up plan. I did two things: (1) I researched press wire services and discovered that for $500 I could fax a press release out to the wire on my own; (2) I began creating a web site for the story. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I used portions of my days and nights to write up the 25 page story. On Thursday and Friday morning I concentrated on translated the story into web pages. And then on Friday morning, August 4, I pitched my internet-famous friend, Justin Hall, on the idea of linking to my just-born, $95,093.35 internet site. Twenty thousand people a day visit Justin's site, Links the Underground . I figured he could make my site popular overnight. I pointed out to him that it was his opportunity to break the story BEFORE The Wall Street Journal. He agreed, for what reason I do not know, but it doesn't matter. The link was established on his page that same afternoon.

    By the next day I had received over 500 hits. The relief I felt was TREMENDOUS. New media had freed me from the control of the old media. I no longer needed the WSJ to run my story. From here on out it would only be a perk. Thank you Justin Hall. You kicked the WSJ's butt!

    With the web site up and calling for people's opinions on what I should do, email began pouring in at about 50/day. The very first one said:

    From: LaserShark
    Date: Mon, 7 Aug 1995 04:19:16 -0400
    To: [email protected]
    Subject: $95,000 WOW!!!

    I just finished reading the detailed account of your experiences with an advertisement check and a highly chagrined (though not admittedly) sector of the banking community. I think that Mr. Gauge at FI, in his final conversation with you while at your mother's house adopted a new tone with you because he and his bank most likely talked with their lawyers and found out that you probably have them by the royal sweets. They are most likely willing to take the matter as far as criminal charges in an attempt to scare you into submission or to the point of a judge telling them that they don't
    have a case against you. Don't give in. Keep the money, if not for your own personal financial gain, but for a muchly deserved lesson to the banking community. If you do, it will make me feel much better about the hundreds of dollars deducted from my own checking account over the years for NSF fees. Twenty dollars per bounced check adds up when an average of three come in
    before you realize that you forgot to note that $200 ATM cash withdrawal made several weeks earlier.

    Good luck with this matter. Your adventure is definitely going to keep me checking your site in the near future.

    Respectfully yours,
    Tony Beard
    GHOST in the MACHINE

    The activity at my web site took the desperation off of my calls to the WSJ. I called again on August 4, and Lynn was out, so instead I spoke with her boss. His name was Oliver, and he told me he couldn't tell me when my story was going to run. I told him that was fine, but that I was now seriously considering faxing it to the wire myself. "You do whatever you have to," he said, "but if I were you I'd wake up in the mornings and buy the paper. It's on the launching pad."

    I took Oliver's words as a discreet way of telling me that the story was going to run tomorrow or the next day. I went back to a routine that I had developed earlier: A midnight walk to the WSJ paper box to wait for the delivery truck. Sometimes at 12:15 AM, and sometimes at 1:20 AM, the truck arrives and I anxiously drop three quarters into the box. Disappointment was a well established part of this ritual, and the next two nights were no different. "Whatever," I walked home thinking.

    The next day, my chances of the story EVER running in the WSJ changed dramatically, and quite by accident. That day I was taking care of my business as an author/speaker. I needed to place an ad in a publication called Radio-TV Interview Report , not for the $95k story, but for my book Major in Success . After talking to the publication's salesman for about 30 minutes, I thought to inquire about also placing an ad for radio interviews about my $95,000 adventure. After hearing my story, he flipped out and said, "What TV shows do you want to be on??!!! I'm going to call Larry King Live ! I know lots of TV show producers on a wine and dine basis because of my work here.... Swear you're telling me the truth! Swear it!!" I did and he said, "Then with your permission I'll call them." "You have my permission," I said, "As long as they're not tabloid shows."

    As soon as I got off the phone, I felt an obligation to call Lynn at the WSJ. She answered and I said "Hi Lynn, it's Patrick. I'm not calling you to bug you about when it's going to run because I know you can't tell me. I'm calling because" -- she angrily cut in and said, "What do you want?" "I wanted you to know before anyone else, that I may end up on TV soon, " I said, surprised by her anger. "My story would have run on Monday, it was scheduled to and approved, but they canceled it when they found out you released it on the newswire. I'm really angry at you," she said

    Immediately I thought of the three thousand hits my web site had already received, and I wondered to myself if it was possible that the story had gone from the web to the Associated Press wire services, in only a matter of days. But there was no way for me to know the answer. I told Lynn that I had not released it to the wire, and she puzzled over how someone in the NY office could have claimed differently. I puzzled out loud over the possibility of my web site and over the question, "Why, if it did hit the wire, have I not received any calls?" I worried that it had gotten to the wire but had been ignored by all journalists because my story mentioned that the WSJ was already given the story. Once Lynn came to believe that I had not faxed to the wire, she vowed to find out what NY was talking about.

    Lynn called me back a few minutes later and told me that she and her bosses were trying to convince NY to run the story ASAP, before I did any TV. She was now convinced that the person in NY who claimed they'd already seen the story somewhere -- simply hadn't.

    I didn't go wait at WSJ paper box that night. I slept soundly. But I did wake up in the morning and put another 75 cents into the same blue WSJ box -- and still no story. Well then, tomorrow's paper, maybe... (I should not that two people now following the story via the internet, offered wonderful suggestions regarding this dismal routine: (1) Maybe this was the WSJ's way of getting me to buy their newspaper, (2) Maybe it would be easier if I just got a subscription.

    Tomorrow came and it was August 10th. That night I had a gut feeling it WOULD run so I resumed my midnight ritual. At 1:12 AM the truck came with the papers. The man loaded them up into the box and then I plugged my three quarters in. (I wonder myself why I would wait until the man put them into the box). I got the paper out and flipped through, my eyes searching frantically for a key word. NOTHING. Damn, the WSJ! Fooled again and I felt like one. But worse yet, this time the disappointment was it seemed the decision had been made to never run the story, ever.

    I called Lynn after the sun rose to see if I had any chances left. I began by restating that I was sure the story had not already appeared anywhere else. She replied, "Your story never hit the wire and they didn't read about it on the interment. The guy in the NY office who claims he saw the story somewhere else, mostly likely saw it on our own internal computer system one of the many times it had been listed on the schedule of stories slated to run." She sounded as down as I felt, but she timidly said she would get off the phone and keep trying. I got off the phone and put in calls to USA Today and The NY Times. Neither one returned my call.

    This entire time (so far 27 days hoping on the WSJ) I had heard nothing from my bank. I was still waiting for them to send the letter they promised. But when I went out for my mail on this day, right behind my phone bill was a letter from First Interstate Bank. This would change everything. A new chapter was now being added to the story and The WSJ would have to rewrite the story (Obviously, I was still carrying a small spark of hope that they would run the story -- I am blessed as a extremely hopeful person). I didn't take the letter in the house. I opened it right there on the sidewalk. It read:

    Dear Patrick Combs:
    We would like to thank you for maintaining your account here at First Interstate Bank of California. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to serve you. I trust that we are providing the services you need and adding to your financial security as well.

    To express our appreciation, we have arranged to provide a new benefit for all eligible checking account customers -- $1,000 of Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance. There is NO COST to you at any time. We pay the premiums.

    Sincerely, Michael A. Johnson, Senior Vice President

    Ha! Junk mail!! I thought to myself, "Either it's junk mail or Mr. Michael Johnson is seriously out of the loop about my account... At the same time it struck me as funny that they were offering me Accident Death and Dismemberment Insurance. Would I be needing it soon?? I believe I'll frame this letter as an absolute testament to the absurdity of computer-generated, supposedly personal letters (I've sent some myself. I think I'll never do it again).

    Another funny thing happened to me that afternoon. I received a phone call from a movie production company. A producer read my web pages and called me. He was not making an offer--just expressing interest, but he did say something hilarious, "I'm anxious to see how this turns out. But whether you get to keep the money or you go to jail, from our point of view, both make for a good ending. AND, if you do go to jail, we won't have to pay for the rights to the story -- so keep that in mind!" It seemed like he was saying it in good fun (kinda).

    The weekend passed, and on Monday August 14, Lynn called to tell me that she was still trying to convince NY to run the story. She was encouraged by the fact that now both of her bosses were also upset that it was killed and are pitching in to fight for the story.

    I'm easy. My hopes went back up.

    By this time, I was not anticipating the WSJ article alone. Over 1000 people all over the world were following along via updates posted at my web site the instant anything changed.

    Come on.. you can do it
  6. graaaeme10

    graaaeme10 Guest

    At This Point, Patrick Combs Wrote A Journal On The Following Events
    Part Eight

    Tuesday, October 3, 1995
    Well, today is the day that the O.J. Simpson case finally ends and the day that my junk check adventure comes to a close.

    I got the letter I wanted and the settlement agreement and assurances I felt I needed so I've scheduled a 1:30 PM appointment with FICAL to return the cashiers check and safe deposit box keys.

    The Associated Press wire services interviewed me about the return yesterday and released it to the wire. There are quite a few reporters who may be accompanying me to the bank today. Big day for me -- tune in later and I'll tell you how it went.

    Wednesday, October 4, 1995 - 12:45 AM

    As the news widely reported this day, I returned the cashier's check to my bank because I finally got what I wanted -- the letter of explanation and exoneration. I realize that reactions to my returning the check will be mixed. Some will see it as victory for the little person, while others will see this final chapter as a let down.

    From my point of view I can only see it as a tremendous victory. Many told me I would never be able to get my bank to do anything I requested -- let alone admit to any mistakes on paper. Today I did just that. Many told me that the results of taking a stand for myself would be jail and not national attention to advertising check issues. Today I am safe from all penalties and I can cite many news stories, that were a result of my incident, that called for changes in direct mail and banking. Maybe most important of all, I walk away from this experience feeling a personal victory, because despite large temptations to stray from my own ethics, values and morals, I am walking away with my honor in tact and strengthened.

    For those that are disappointed in my giving back money that I could have legally fought to keep (or given to charity, or used to further embarrass my bank, etc.), my first response is this: For me, the only satisfying victory is one which was achieved without compromising my own integrity. I requested suggestions for what I should do with the money, but only out of curiosity -- my conscience has always dictated that I return money that I did not earn. After an unexpected turn of events, I came to feel that before returning the check it was important to stand up against the bank's fear tactics and so I did. I took a stand for a letter and, after 3 months and a lawsuit, I got it. I beat their fear tactics.

    Honestly, I am too tired to fill in this web page TONIGHT with the quite enjoyable and rich details of all that occurred yesterday while returning the check (For instance, I paid them money I owed using checks that I marked with the words, "non-negotiable."). I will wake up tomorrow morning and post the final scene first thing.... I will also post the details of the settlement agreement.

    Wednesday, October 4 @ 9 PM

    Finally I've got some time to post the story of the cashier's check to my web site. Life is full of surprises. Every time I think I know how something will go, life throws in some zingers. Returning the money yesterday was no different.

    The day began with a phone message from the Marshall and Maxwell radio station in Baltimore. Their message said they were disappointed to hear I was returning the money. In a previous interview they had told me I was their hero for cashing the check. It was a tough message to start the day with, but I saw reactions like this coming. As I prepared for my meeting I received phone calls from news agencies who hoped to meet me at the bank for interviews and footage. Meeting me down there was fine, I just wasn't sure I'd be able to get them into the meeting. As I prepared for the meeting I decided to do two things - First off, I decided to leave early so that there was time to go to the safe deposit box and check on my check. Would it still be there? Would I be able to open the box? Secondly, as I was writing out two checks that I needed to give the bank (one for $65 to return the three weeks of interest (@ 2% and another for $175 to close my account), I made a last minute decision to write the words 'non-negotiable' on each of the checks. At 9:55 AM I put my FICAL matters down and sat down in front of my television for the OJ verdict. I stayed glued to the TV for the next two hours -- and the drama of it all actually physically exhausted me. I got off of the couch and dragged myself out of my home to head for the bank.

    I entered the bank at just around 12:30 and my eyes were again filled with the magnificent sight of this flagship branch office. It was more awe inspiring and beautiful than I had remembered -- yes it was all ivory columns, gold trim and marble floors, but I had forgotten the most impressive part of all -- the panoramic oil paintings of old clipper ships that hung on all the walls. This is truly a branch I was proud to have my $95,000 in. I approached the special services window and a smiling woman asked what she could help me with. I said that I would like to access my safe deposit box. "Sure," she said, " What is your name?" I've never seen someone's face change so rapidly. When she heard my name her whole face fell to worry and she asked me to say my name again. "Patrick Combs," I said. "C-o-m-b-s?" she clarified. I confirmed and suddenly she was on the move for her boss, a woman far across the bank. "Just a minute," I heard her say as she left. It took her boss about 5 seconds to look at me and pick up the phone. I waited. All I had to do was wait about 3 minutes and then two suits came in through the bank's two front, glass doors.

    The suits introduced themselves in a very friendly manner. One was the branches manager. The other was from FICAL's risk management. I signed in to access my safe deposit box, and four of us (the teller included) headed into the vault. Once inside, I immediately picked out my box without even remembering the number. It was easy because it was the only box with two red dots covering the key holes. The teller removed the dots (they pry out easily) and inserted her skeleton key and then mine. She slid the slim box out and stepped aside for me to open it. I lifted the lid wondering if my cashier's check would be inside. Sure enough, there it was, still folded in half like I had left it. I picked up the check and gave it a long long look. It looked so real, so rich, so pretty (pretty because of the fine red and green lined background). It looked like money. I scanned it for an expiration date. Nothing. Then when I said a silent good-bye, I slipped the check back into the box.

    The man from Risk Management broke the silence and cut through the air ,which was so thick you it made movement stiff, by asking me if I was going to return the check now and relinquish the box. I said that I was not going to because it was my understanding that I was supposed to sign the settle agreement first. I exited the vault and the bank and headed for my 1:30 meeting. The meeting place was only one block away at 345 California Street, in the huge skyscraper called First Interstate Plaza. When I arrived at the building, there was a photographer waiting. He was from AP Press Services. We hung out in the lobby downstairs for 15 minutes in case other people from the press would show up, but none did, so at 1:29 it was time to go up to the 8th floor. We didn't make it to the elevator. We were stopped by a lobby guard, uniformed in a maroon blazer, who informed us that we could not go up without permission - because of the photographer. I went to a pay phone and called Charles Ward, the man I was meeting with to ask him if the photographer could come up. He politely said no, even after I passed along the photographer's words of advice, "It'll look bad for the bank if the photo is just of Patrick with a caption that says, First Interstate said denied photographers from taking pictures." But he did tell me that we could take all the pictures we wanted outside of the building. And he told me that I DID need to first return the cashier's check and close out my safe deposit box. So back to the other bank I headed.

    Outside the building, the photographer asked me to pose for the some pictures standing in front of the First Interstate logo. As I was standing there with the two safe deposit box keys in hand, suddenly we were rushed by the lobby guard. He persisted to yell that we did not have permission to take pictures here - I persisted to stand smiling - and the photographed went into rapid fire shooting mode. I felt like I was in a David Lynch film. The photo's must look absolutely absurd. The lobby guard lunged toward the photographer and leaping backwards the photographer yelled, "You can't hit me man! You can't touch me, I'm on public property!" It was time to disburse.

    I went back to the branch office, got the check and handed it over to the suit from Risk Management. He said thank you. Then I closed out my safe deposit box. My business was almost done here -- I had one more thing I wanted to do. I approached the branch manager politely and gave him a 9 page letter I had written to the President of FICAL. I explained to him that it began with an apology for the original mistake that I made -- thinking that depositing a junk check would cause a bank no trouble at all -- and continued with an account of the mistakes the bank had made that resulted in me having the money for so long. He very politely said he would read it and respond to me. Then I asked him my question, "First Interstate has a policy that I have always loved: a $5 service guarantee. (Any mistakes on the banks part and all the customer has to do to get $5 is ask. On many occasions where the ATM wasn't working I collected an easy five bucks.) Since my settlement agreement with the bank admits to First Interstate's mistake, may I please have five dollars?" The branch manager earnestly said back to me, "I'm sorry, we canceled that service a year ago. You'll notice we took down the Service Guarantee sign." "OK," I replied, while thinking to myself that it was probably a very smart financial move for a bank like First Interstate.

    I headed back to 345 California Street, but when I entered the building and took a step toward the elevator, again the maroon suited man got in my face. "What now?" I thought. He told me that I couldn't go up to the 8th floor because they didn't want me up there. I said they clearly wanted me up there - what they didn't want on the 8th floor was a photographer. Nope, he still refused to let me pass and then he said words that sent chills down mine spine, "Robert Gage, from First Interstate Security is coming down to speak with you." Robert Gage!!!!! The same man who threatened me with police and called me a fraud?!! Robert Gage who probably wanted revenge?!! Without any consideration, I blurted out, "I cannot and will not see Robert Gage." I dashed to the phone booth and yelled back to the lobby guard who was trying to follow me, "Don't you dare tell Robert Gage where I am. I will not see him." I got Charles on the phone and quickly explained my anxiety. His immediate response was, "I'll come right down and escort you up personally." I waited.

    The elevator door opened and out came a very large man, dressed in black slacks, and a T-Shirt. By large I mean, like the Incredible Hulk. "Who was this?" I wondered. Was this Robert Gage? He called me by name and asked me to enter the elevator with him. I didn't move. I said, "I was told Charles was coming down. Who are you?" "I'm Tom Johnson. We've met before," he said with an odd smile.

    Final Chapter

    Now I had no recollection of ever meeting this man before and suddenly I had the horrifying thought that this was in fact, Robert Gage. (Editors note: Robert Gage is not the real name of the Security Office and standing in that elevator I could not remember what made-up name I had used on my web pages, and I was wondering if Tom Johnson was the name I had chosen?) Had he read my web pages and was he now toying with me? He spoke again, "We met the first time you came to Charles Ward. I'm the one who let you in the office." Oh! I was relieved.

    The familiarity of Charles Ward's face was reassuring. Our last meeting had seemed friendly. We sat down again at a conference room table to settle our matter. We had a short checklist to work through: Sign the agreement, provide each other with originals, confirm I'd returned the check -- and lastly, "Had I brought the two checks for the interest and closing of my account?" I had.

    I took the checks out of my bag, and although the words 'non-negotiable' didn't take up more than an inch of the top right hand corner of the check, they stood out like sore thumbs. I'd pay $95,000 if someone could have captured the look on Charles' face. It was a classic Kodak moment. He tilted his head to confirm that the words he was seeing were an actuality. And then his head started shaking no, and his mouth said, "Patrick, Patrick, Patrick..... This is a problem. This is a problem. What are we going to do here?" His head kept shaking back and forth. I held back my smile and said, "Don't worry about those words Charles. The words 'non-negotiable' on the face of a check don't invalidate it. It's still a perfectly legal instrument. That's my point." He looked at me like he was thinking, "You are a never-ending piece of work."

    Our settlement was done. I had just signed and executed a five page agreement that won me (1) the bank admitting to mistakes (2) letters of apology sent by the bank to those who received bounced checks because of all this (3) proof that my credit rating was undamaged (4) complete dismissal of all charges and damage claims, and 5) the right to continue speaking and writing about the experience.

    Before getting up from the table, I reached into my bag one more time. I produced two copies of my book and offered them to Charles (He has two daughters in college, I'd learned during our first meeting). "My way of saying thank you for helping me resolve this manner," I said. Pleasantly smiling, he replied, "You are very very thoughtful and very kind Patrick. Thank you for the most gracious offer, but I must decline. Thank you though -- I have seen your book and although I haven't read it all, it does look like a very good book."

    Following that I looked at Charles and said, "Is there any one in First Interstate Bank who is interested in going after the company that issued these ridiculous junk checks?" He said that he couldn't answer that at the time (Charles always plays it close to the vest), but then he said, "I can tell you that I'm well aware of the trouble they caused here and I'm considering the actions that can be taken against them." "Great! Make sure they know that 'non-negotiable' doesn't invalidate a check" I said, "That might be a real leverage point. Make them well aware of the fact that they might have to honor 40 million of the junk checks they issue." Charles and I continued our talk about the problems that junk checks for another 10 minutes and then all the way out the door. His primary concern: Banks process millions of checks per day and billions of checks per month -- their systems simply can't look at every check.

    A couple more paragraphs... damn 16k limit
  7. graaaeme10

    graaaeme10 Guest

    At the elevator door he wanted to tell me something that was very important to him. "Patrick, I hope you won't encourage other people to deposit junk checks because it would not only cause problems for banks, but it would result in even bigger problems for the people who deposited the check." I assured him that I knew what he was talking about. If you deposit a junk check in an attempt to get the bank's money, you are attempting fraud. If you do it, it clears and you spend the money, you have committed fraud and possibly bank robbery (Yes, actually Bank Robbery charges).

    At the same time, I am unaware of any laws that make it illegal to put a junk check into an ATM as a joke. I could be wrong, but then again, my bank never pointed out any such law to me.

    Just before entering the elevator door, I asked Bernard for $5 based on the $5 Perfect Service Guarantee. “After all Bernard, the mistake happened while the policy was still in effect.” Bernard shook his head and then reached for his wallet. “The policy is no longer in effect, but I think you earned it,” he said handing me $5.
    The End

    By Patrick Combs
  8. Operational

    Operational Newbie

    Aug 17, 2006
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    Dude that's a small novel. I might read it later.
  9. depth9000

    depth9000 Newbie

    Dec 19, 2006
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    LOL @ whoever reads that novel.
  10. Pulse

    Pulse Newbie

    Dec 25, 2004
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    Eheh I glanced through it, sounds like bs to me.
  11. Shippi

    Shippi Tank

    May 6, 2003
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    I read it.. interesting read.

    I wonder what would have happened if he had kept the money
  12. bigburpco

    bigburpco Tank

    Nov 12, 2005
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    Why didn't he keep it? :(

    It's pretty darn funny what happened though.
  13. The Monkey

    The Monkey The Freeman

    Jun 5, 2004
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    I read Chapter 1 & 2 before I realized it had nine parts :(
  14. Cole

    Cole Newbie

    Jan 19, 2004
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    Ok I got like the first 3 posts after that it went down hill. I'm still confused where all the action was. The sweet gun fights, the cliche lines, and the sexy girl that you live happily ever after with and you nail sometime during the script? Add them in there and I think we could have a movie!
  15. Darkside55

    Darkside55 The Freeman

    Jun 12, 2009
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    Engrossing story, thanks for posting it. I can't believe he didn't take the money after what he went through, but I can see why he opted for the more "noble" route, even though I personally would've fought to keep that money.

    The last bit about the $5 Perfect Service Guarantee was a good ending, though.
  16. Doppelgofer

    Doppelgofer Newbie

    Aug 4, 2003
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    i read most of it. good stuff
  17. Dekstar

    Dekstar Companion Cube

    Jun 4, 2004
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    tbh I would have kept the money. It was the bank's fault to start with.
    Good read though.
  18. depth9000

    depth9000 Newbie

    Dec 19, 2006
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    Long story short [contains spoilers]:

    This guy received an advertisement in the mail that resembled a check for ~$95.000. He knew this "check" was phony because it had the words "non-negotiable" written on it, but he put it in his ATM anyway, not trying to defraud the bank, but as a "joke." Turns out the ATM accepted the check. Days passed and he did not receive any complaint from the bank, so he went to the bank, bought another check for the amount he had deposited from the fake check, and put it in a safe deposit box. Then when the bank realized it had made a mistake it asked him to return the check he had deposited in the safe deposit box. He refused to do this, because as he had learned, the "fake" check he had first deposited was a valid legal instrument; the words "non-negotiable" written on it, according to the law, did not make it invalid. The money he had deposited was legally his. After some publicity the bank decided to apologize for all this trouble and the guy returned the check to the bank. He then lived happily ever after. THE END.
  19. Jintor

    Jintor Didn't Get Temp-Banned

    Dec 15, 2004
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    That story wins games.
  20. Rim-Fire

    Rim-Fire Guest

    Great story :)
  21. Solaris

    Solaris Party Escort Bot

    Feb 11, 2005
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    Awesome read.
  22. CyberPitz

    CyberPitz Party Escort Bot

    Aug 23, 2004
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    That was a great read. Don't know if it's true or not, but awesome none the less
  23. NeptuneUK

    NeptuneUK Space Core

    Aug 25, 2004
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    'Cheque' tbh. :p
  24. Ravioli

    Ravioli Microboner

    Nov 1, 2004
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    im still waiting for that mail! Whats taking them so long?
  25. Baal

    Baal Tank

    Sep 22, 2003
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    That was amazing. I read all of it, every word.

    The only thing that disappointed me a little was how long ago it happened. Over 11 years ago? Something about such a dated story kind of distants me from it.

    Regardless, it was awesome, but kind of a shame he didn't fight to keep the money. Seemed to me he had every legal right to it.
  26. CyberPitz

    CyberPitz Party Escort Bot

    Aug 23, 2004
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    He DID have a legal right, but he gave it back for morality issues. His concience told him to give it back, and he listened. Not a bad move, but he could have invested that 100k and never had to worry about money again.
  27. NeptuneUK

    NeptuneUK Space Core

    Aug 25, 2004
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    Charity tbh
  28. Solaris

    Solaris Party Escort Bot

    Feb 11, 2005
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    I'd keep it with my ethics intact.

    Oh the joys of being a socialist...
  29. depth9000

    depth9000 Newbie

    Dec 19, 2006
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    Nah, the guy would have lost the money anyway. Remember what the lawyer said?

    He would have had to go through a lawsuit and he would have lost.
  30. Rim-Fire

    Rim-Fire Guest

    No, to really follow your ethics you would have to share it with the working class.
  31. depth9000

    depth9000 Newbie

    Dec 19, 2006
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    1 cent to each of your 9,000,000 fellow men.

    Good luck figuring out the logistics of doing that.
  32. tehsolace

    tehsolace Newbie

    Oct 3, 2003
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    Good read! Took forever to finish it, but it was worth it. I'm surprised he was able to manage his way through the processes and reach the right people to get the right info. Those are some networking skills!
  33. Gunner

    Gunner Tank

    Aug 15, 2003
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    Nice story, but I was disappointed that he decide to return the check. Although it was a nice finishing touch when he wrote "non-negotiable" on the checks he gave to the bank. Subtle yet striking. He says he couldn't keep money he didn't earn but I believe that after going through all that trouble, to learn the law, to talk with all those people, that he earned the money. Anyway, great stuff.
  34. ZeeM

    ZeeM Newbie

    Oct 13, 2003
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    Crap! I just read it all.

    Good read though.
  35. Instinct

    Instinct Newbie

    Nov 25, 2006
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    Wow, why? WHY did I read all that?!

    I remember something about this from somewhere, think my dad mentioned it.

    These days if you get an advertising cheque its plastered in YOU CAN'T ACTUALLY CASH THIS LOL so he made a difference at least
  36. depth9000

    depth9000 Newbie

    Dec 19, 2006
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    The other day I got a $15 check from AOL. It was written on the check that by cashing it I agreed to a 6 month subscription of AOL!
  37. Puzzlemaker

    Puzzlemaker Newbie

    Aug 1, 2004
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    Wow, I read that whole thing, NICE STORY. Very nice! I enjoyed it a lot!
  38. Evo

    Evo Tank

    May 6, 2005
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    4 it all!

    Good read though!
  39. CyberPitz

    CyberPitz Party Escort Bot

    Aug 23, 2004
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    Yeah that's such bullshit. I've seen a bunch of those...retarded IMHO..playing on the idiots who don't read...

    On second thought, natural selection! :D
  40. MiccyNarc

    MiccyNarc Tank

    Jul 1, 2004
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    Can't believe he didn't keep the money what an idiot.

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