Daily exercise plan thwarts check fraud

HR Sports Club rebounds from major scam

Daily exercise routines promise to bring about good health and longer life. For Clark and Carol Emmerson, one particular daily routine also ensured the survival of their business.

The Emmersons, who are the co-owners of the Hood River Sports Club, keep a commitment to personally monitor their business accounts daily. Luckily, and perhaps not surprisingly for a pair who promote disciplined exercise, they practice what they preach.

“On July 3, I checked on our checking account in the morning and saw about $25,000 had been written against us in checks that I didn’t recognize,” said Clark Emmerson. An immediate call to the bank brought out surprising information.

“It seems like they had some knowledge of our checks. The font sizes and styles were very similar,” said Emmerson. “What is so distressing is that there were a number of security features that were missing from these forgeries but they were deposited anyway.”

Three checks, resembling Sports Club-style documents, had been written and deposited into several individual savings and checking accounts in a JP Morgan Chase bank in southern California. After some bank research, it was discovered that the money had then been transferred multiple times through a series of accounts.

Emmerson and both the banks and police investigators are not sure how the thieves obtained the banking information and check styles.

“Really, there are so many possibilities. There is no fail-safe way to prohibit this kind of fraud in the future,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is your own diligence in checking your accounts that protects you.”

By the time Emmerson had found the fraud, within about 14 hours, $500 in cash from the $24,757 in deposits had already been withdrawn.

“I’m sure that they were thinking ‘It’s a holiday weekend and no one is looking,’” he said. “We could have lost it all by Monday.”

The good news is that with Emmerson’s fast action, the account was closed immediately and a hold was placed on the funds deposited into the thieves’ accounts.

“We prevented a fourth check from being deposited. That one was for $14,500,” Emmerson said. “Who knows how many they were planning over the holiday weekend.”

Hood River Police are working with the Emmersons on the criminal aspect of the case.

“They have been very diligent. They are trying to subpoena videotapes from the bank,” said Emmerson. “We know what branch it was, the people’s ‘names’ and their account numbers. It does seem like it is a sophisticated check-fraud ring.”

The Emmersons’ local U.S. Bank branch and the California bank involved do agree that the checks were forgeries. JP Morgan Chase has notified them that they have the entire amount of stolen funds in safe holding.

Unfortunately for Emmerson, bank policies allow Chase to hold those funds for 45 days from the time of the fraud discovery.

“They are pretty tight-lipped about why they do that,” he said. “We know we are going to get the money back, but it may be the full 45 days.

“That could hurt a business drastically. We are fortunate that we can run our operations without those funds.

“You really do have to protect your checks and account numbers as much as you can,” said Emmerson. “We have also looked at other ways to tighten up our other systems.”

Ironically, Emmerson had two other recent experiences with attempted fraud against the business. A recent Sports Club VISA bill arrived with a series of fraudulent charges on it, which required an investigation and removal process.

The third incident was more personal.

Offering two Sports Club excess kayaks for sale on Craigslist, Emmerson received an email request to buy them, with the condition that they be held for a few days under a “good faith” deposit of $50 in the form of a cashier’s check.

The check arrived made out as $1,050, with an accompanying email. The “buyer” asked Emmerson to deposit the check and to forward back the $1,000 overpayment. The kayaks “would be picked up over the next weekend” when the rest of the cost would ostensibly be paid.

Emmerson recognized the scam and brought the forged cashier’s check to U.S. Bank employees who confirmed it was a fake.

“It’s a lesson to be learned by everybody. All kinds of funny business are going on out there,” said Emmerson.

As sobering as a morning weigh-in, Emmerson’s daily routine of bank checkups proved the best preventative exercise for the world’s dark underbelly.

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