When we landed in the land of dreams, I was lucky enough to have a job unlike so many immigrants. One of the first things I had to do, as our HR advised me, was to open a bank account. So I took a break from sitting at the office waiting for a project assignment, and headed to the NBD bank in Farmington Hills, MI. The customer service lady was extremely helpful – she should have dealt with the hundreds of new employees that come through my company – and gave me forms to fill out, took signatures. She asked what address I should specify on the cheques. In India, nobody puts the address on the cheques. I asked her why there needs to be an address and her reply was ‘for verification’ and the payee will need to be able to trace a cheque. Since I didn’t have a place to live yet, I gave our company address. I was done within 10 minutes and I got back to the office to let my colleagues know how smoothly the transaction went in opening a bank account compared to how long it would take back home.
After nearly two weeks in Farmington Hills, as I have written before, we moved to take up a job in a suburb of Chicago. Life was going on well for about a month. One of the evenings after I came back from work I dialed my bank’s 800 number to check my balance. I was surprised to hear ‘NEGATIVE ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS AND ….CENTS’. I listened to the message again and again and it was no different. I immediately called the customer service and was told that I had checks bouncing as I didn’t have enough balance. She verified the last few transactions all of which I denied having made. She recognized those were fraudulent transactions and immediately closed my account. She asked if my cheque book was stolen and I said I hadn’t received any cheque books. After verifying the address mailed to was our company office’s, we came to the conclusion that someone had stolen it from the office and had been writing them out.
What was bewildering was the amounts the cheques had been cashed for – these were in the hundreds of dollars, usually in the 200-350 range. One flaw in the retail industry is while accepting cheques, many don’t verify IDs and even if they did, they don’t question if the signature looks different. Those who wrote the cheques would have had some support at the checkout counters as well in having the IDs overlooked. This is a practice I came to know about afterwards. Another rather idiotic thing is the banks don’t verify the signature on the cheques with the original for every payment, else they could have stopped the misuse right at the first cheque.
Coming to a new country, not knowing the practices – forget about the culture, added so much risk to the new venture that when I think about it now, I wonder if had I known all that have come to know about America, if I would have taken the step to move to a foreign land leaving behind all family and everything behind.
How the case of the missing cheques transpired and the ordeals I had to go through to see to the end of them is a lot of material for another post!