COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Columbus woman said thieves managed to steal more than $3,0000 from her bank account, leaving her scrambling to pay bills. She spent months trying to get her bank to reimburse her for the stolen money, with no success. So, she called 10TV for help.
"I'm very happy, I'm very pleased," said Brenda Cherry.
For Cherry, this moment of joy and relief has been a long time coming. It's a moment she didn't think was ever going to happen.
"It's been over 180 days. If nothing happened in 180 days, I just assumed it wasn't going to happen," Cherry said.
Cherry said since September 2022, she's been living a nightmare. She spent hours going back and forth with Huntington Bank, over $3,191.98 swiped from her account.
"I've never had that happen to me. It just blew me away," Cherry said.
Cherry thinks the thieves got their hands on her check, back in April or May last year when she dropped of her bill payments inside the city gates post office in northeast Columbus.
Whoever took the check, didn't cash it until several months later. Cherry didn't notice it until she went to balance her checkbook and the number's didn't add up.
“Have you ever written a check for $3,191.98?” asked Kinsey. “No, never," said Cherry.
One look at the check in question and Cherry instantly knew she had been the victim of mail theft -- a crime 10TV has been reporting on extensively since last year.
The crime involves thieves stealing mail with hopes of finding checks inside, which they then can wash with fingernail polish, which strips the original information, replacing it with a different payee and amount.
“I kind of wanted to blame the bank because I have never ever written a check that large before...for them not to basically, you know, maybe put a hold on it, contact me. I never got none of that”, Cherry said.
Instead, after filing a claim with Huntington, the bank sent her a letter denying to reimburse her for the stolen money, claiming that reasonable care was not used in securing her financial documents. It was a surprising response for Cherry, but not for Attorney Kevin Kneupper.
"Some specific banks are much worse than others. But there are some that appear to have this deliberate, like thing, like they just on purpose are doing this," said Kneupper, who is a consumer protection lawyer.
For more than 15 years, Kneupper has focused on consumer protection cases, trying to stop businesses from taking advantage of people. On a weekly basis, Kneupper says his firm is inundated with calls from customers – claiming their bank won't reimburse them for stolen money.
"That's not every bank. But some banks, I think, are doing this on purpose because it's really quite profitable to just not have to pay stuff you're supposed to pay at the volume that this is happening, which is probably billions upon billions per year. That's a lot of incentive to just not care," Kneupper said.
In Ohio, Kneupper said current consumer protection laws need to change to better financially help consumers take on big banks without drowning in steep fees that they often can't afford.
"They took banks out of the law, so a bank can do something unfair entirely and you don't get protection at all," Kneupper said.
In Cherry's case, 10TV reached out to Huntington for answers.
While they couldn’t comment directly about Cherry’s money, a spokesperson sent a statement saying in part, “Huntington is committed to looking out for our customers and supporting them when they need us most because we understand how stressful being a victim of fraud can be. We recommend you immediately contact your bank if you believe you have been a victim of check washing.”
Just hours after our initial request from Huntington, Cherry received a call from the bank. Her money was reimbursed, bringing this nightmare to an end.
As 10TV has reported in the past, due to a cut by the postmaster general, there are fewer postal police out right now protecting mail. Several lawmakers have been pushing for that to change and for the USPS to take more accountability.
10TV reached out to the Postal Inspection Service for comment about mail thefts here in Columbus, but they didn't get back to us.
However, according to the office of the inspector general's semi-annual report to congress, in a six-month period from April 1 to Sept. 30 of last year, Ohio ranked among the top ten states for investigations, ranging from internal mail theft to narcotics.
Here are some steps experts say you can take to help avoid becoming a victim of check washing and mail theft.
- Make electronic or mobile payments
- Use indelible black ink when writing paper checks
- Do not leave blank spaces in the payee or amount lines of checks you write
- Take your mail inside the post office for mailing