I worked for a large, very well know bank in Burbank for many years as a financial services officer. I loved that job so much. I worked for an awesome boss who gave me free rein as long as I produced loans and numbers, and I always did. Next to me on the platform (across from the tellers) was the new accounts woman who was relatively new but we hit it off and had a good team going.
Back in the day of banking in the mid-to-late 80s we had stamps in our front desk drawers that we used to identify ourselves along with an initial or a signature. Because I was an officer, the new accounts woman would come to me often to approve a deposit for a new account.
The boss at the Burbank branch got a promotion and within a few months he promoted me as well and brought me over to the neighboring Sherman Oaks branch of the bank where I had basically the same job.
At the beginning of one week I logged into my account, which I did almost every morning, to check and see what checks had cleared and what my balance was. I had a credit card from the bank that was linked to my checking account as overdraft protection. The first thing I noticed as I sat down at my desk with a cup of coffee was that a check for seven hundred dollars had cleared along with another check for nine hundred and a few more, making me severely overdrawn– not to mention all MY checks that were bouncing from here to the North Pole.
What the hell?
I didn’t write those big checks.
I quickly called over to my home branch in Burbank and spoke to one of the managers there – a friend of mine. He said he would have to look into the situation and call me back.
As it turned out, my account number was being used by someone else.
Apparently, after so many years of an inactive account, they close the account, and then issue the number back into circulation again. In my case, a little old lady from Burbank had found a stack of (old) checkbooks and began writing checks on an account that had been long since closed – which just so happened to be my account.
My credit card was working overtime trying to keep up – but in the end, everything was resolved. Of course, my life appeared to be in shambles if you looked at my statements and my maxed out credit card.
About two weeks later I was paid a visit from someone I didn’t know and who only asked to speak to me.
She pulled me into a back conference room, closed the door, and sat down with a thick 3-ring binder that had my name riddled throughout it. In fact, I recognized some of the paperwork – loan applications of customers, my initials on new account signature cards, copies of my credit card statements, random pieces of paper that had my writing and signatures.
She opened the binder in front of me and told me I needed to return the thousands of dollars I took from the bank.
I’m sorry, come again? What the fuck are you talking about?
She had copies of my Visa statements with the bank, copies of my checking and savings bank statements, and what looked to my young twenty-something self as my entire life in that 3-ring binder. It was humiliating, frustrating, and frightening all at once.
My heart began to beat fast and I felt my stomach lurch as if I swallowed the Pit of Doom.
I explained I didn’t steal any money.
She had proof of the contrary. She said all I needed to do was to give the money back and all would be okay.
I told her I didn’t steal any money.
She wanted to know why my account had been so overdrawn? Why had I been “living off my credit cards?” (Apparently a red flag and therefore proof of my wrongdoing.)
This went on and on for hours.
I finally told her that I think it best I talk to my parents or an attorney or someone else…I might have been in my early twenties but I wasn’t dumb and I could see the writing on the wall and where this was all leading…which was definitely not to the land of bubble gum and rainbows.
When I walked out of the conference room I felt the icy air around me. You know when you open a door quickly and there are people trying to listen with their ear to the door and they scramble trying to look innocent as if they had all just been walking casually near the door at the exact same time? That was the vibe in the bank. No one looked me in the eye.
The manager that had been my biggest advocate, who I hit it off with immediately, who I had worked with for over three years, who I invited to my upcoming wedding suddenly shunned me – as did every employee at the bank.
I was confused, hurt, and heartbroken.
I was also pissed.
I was innocent and yet I can see how all arrows were pointing directly at me.
Apparently there had been some accounts that had been opened fraudulently and my signature, initials, and stamp were all over every single new account signature card.
I met with more auditors from the bank.
And then I was in a room with several auditors, all trying to get me to crack and return the money they thought I stole.
And each time I told them exactly the same thing: Those weren’t my signatures. The problem with my overdrawn checking account and maxed out credit card was because of a rare fluke in the system that was already resolved. I did not steal any money.
Rinse and repeat.
Meanwhile, I explained the situation to my parents and my dad immediately called our family lawyer who told me not to speak to anyone anymore.
While I didn’t talk to any other auditors, I also didn’t talk to anyone at the bank either – who all avoided me as if by talking to me in the lunchroom they would somehow be accomplices and be forced to wear sashes that read “Thief”.
It was a very depressing time in my career.
In the end, I was cleared.
That lovely new accounts woman had been going into my desk and using my stamp. She was forging my signature too. All this came out when they finally did a handwriting analysis after I repeatedly told the auditors that the signatures she had on the cards in question were not my signatures.
The new accounts woman was fired and I was cleared but I never really escaped the cloud of doubt that followed me.
Within a few months I transferred to another branch. After my wedding I moved out of the Los Angeles area and began underwriting at the bank’s loan center in Orange County and never saw any of those people at that branch ever again.