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Old 23rd January 2020, 01:01 PM   #1
Checkmite
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Winning a racial-discrimination lawsuit while black

Sauntore Thomas, an African-American man who lives in Detroit, had filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against a former employer and successfully won a substantial confidential settlement from the company. After receiving the checks from his attorney, Thomas decided to deposit the majority of the money and cash some of it at his local TCF bank branch, where he has had an account for nearly two years. He wanted to use the cash to buy a used car, since he didn't have a vehicle (Thomas is working-poor).

The bank told him they needed to make phone calls to verify the checks; but instead of doing so, the bank called the police and immediately reported the checks as fraudulent.

Quote:
About 3 p.m. Tuesday, Thomas entered the and filled out a sign-in sheet to meet with a banking specialist to open an additional savings account and deposit his checks. He eventually met with Assistant Branch Manager Erika Mack, gave her his checks and explained that he would like to open a savings account, deposit the checks and withdraw some cash.

Mack immediately appeared suspicious, explained the checks would need to be “verified” but that the bank's computerized “verification system” was not working that day. Because of this malfunction, Mack said she would have to call in the checks to complete the transaction. She then walked away to a back area to "call in the checks," but before leaving, she asked Thomas: "How did you get this money?"

Thomas answered the money was from a lawsuit settlement.

After a few minutes, Mack returned and stated that the person who verifies checks “was not around.” Thomas said he'd wait until that person showed up.

Turned out, the assistant bank manager was not going to-and-from a back area to complete Thomas' transaction, but rather had called the Livonia Police and reported that Thomas was trying to deposit fraudulent checks.

Within 10 minutes, two Livonia Police officers arrived inside the lobby; two others remained outside the doors.

One of the officers told Thomas that the bank had reported "a problem" with his checks, and wanted to know where he got them.

Thomas explained the lawsuit, gave the officer his lawyer's business card, and then called his lawyer himself for help.

Two officers spoke with Gordon, who also explained to the officers and an assistant bank manager that Thomas had settled a federal lawsuit involving race discrimination, and that he was trying to deposit his settlement checks.

The bank still refused to deposit them, the lawsuit states, and then filed a police report against Thomas for check fraud.
The bank has given a slew of statements justifying their handling of Thomas's transaction. The one they spend the most time on is that there was something "wrong" with Thomas's behavior and that his requests were "very very unusual". Note the bank's description of the unusual requests:

Quote:
According to TCF's Wennerberg, Thomas presented three checks written from Enterprise that day: One for $59,000. One for $27,000. And one for $13,000.

"They couldn't verify that those checks were due to a settlement," said Wennerberg, adding the bank contacted Enterprise to verify that the checks were part of a lawsuit, but were unable to do so.

Wennerberg said the assistant manager who waited on Thomas was African American, and felt that something didn't "look right," so she called police.

"Obviously, the customer got upset at that point," Wennerberg said, adding Thomas had made a "highly, highly unusual request."

According to Wennerberg, Thomas wanted to deposit the two larger checks in his bank account, which, Wennerberg said, had only 52 cents in it. And he wanted to cash the $13,000 check, he said, adding the bank told him that those funds would be on hold for two business days, and that Thomas said "fine." Thomas also wanted a new debit card because, he told the bank, his old one wasn't working, he said, adding that request sounded unusual as well.

Wennerberg said he had not yet seen the race discrimination lawsuit that Gordon filed against TCF on Wednesday, but denied that the bank engaged in discriminatory behavior.

"We disagree with that," Wennerberg said. "We were looking at the behavior, the asks that he was making."
Evidently, cashing some of a lump sum and depositing the rest is suspicious. Asking for a replacement debit card because yours has stopped working is also "unusual".

The bank also makes two other contentions, although they are scattered through the story; firstly, they claim that an automatic check scanning machine revealed that the checks contained a "VOID" watermark - something which, to my knowledge, all modern checks contain. Meanwhile, in a statement the police detective assigned to the case said the bank told her that they considered the checks suspicious because they were different from that company's payroll checks, again claiming that this fact was automatically detected "by the system".

For Thomas's part, I think his attorney makes a very key point:

Quote:
"They could have just called the bank that issued the checks, and they apparently didn't do anything because it would have all been verified immediately."
Underscoring the plain simple truth of this, a disgusted Thomas finally stopped trying to argue his case at TCF and closed his account, taking his "suspicious" checks and walking a block down the street to a Chase bank, where he did not have an account. He opened an account there and deposited the checks completely without incident, and the checks cleared within 12 hours. Chase bank also has both automatic and behavior-based fraud-detection measures and none of them sensed anything unusual about the checks themselves or Thomas's "asks" regarding them (he got his cash, and bought the used vehicle he wanted).

TCF claims that Thomas's requests were "very very unusual", but the only thing that strikes me as unusual are the bank's procedures. For one thing, it was my impression that the standard procedure for verifying a check's authenticity - as Thomas's lawyer points out - is to call the issuing bank, not the account holder of the check, and then allow a certain period of time - anywhere from several hours to a couple of business days - for the verification to happen. TCF was clearly unwilling to do that, instead trying to call the company that wrote the check directly to "verify the money was from a settlement" and then reporting the check as fraudulent, to the police when they were unable to do so within 10 minutes! Why did the bank need to determine that the money was "from a settlement" before they would be able to cash it? All they should need to know is that the check itself is valid - which, again, is information that has to be obtained from the issuing bank, not the company that wrote it.

So, on the advice of his attorney, Thomas is suing the bank. She argues that the only thing "highly unusual" the bank really saw about Thomas's behavior was being a black man having possession of checks with lots of zeros on them.
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Last edited by Checkmite; 23rd January 2020 at 01:08 PM.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 01:14 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Checkmite View Post
TCF claims that Thomas's requests were "very very unusual", but the only thing that strikes me as unusual are the bank's procedures. For one thing, it was my impression that the standard procedure for verifying a check's authenticity - as Thomas's lawyer points out - is to call the issuing bank, not the account holder of the check, and then allow a certain period of time - anywhere from several hours to a couple of business days - for the verification to happen. TCF was clearly unwilling to do that, instead trying to call the company that wrote the check directly to "verify the money was from a settlement" and then reporting the check as fraudulent, to the police when they were unable to do so within 10 minutes! Why did the bank need to determine that the money was "from a settlement" before they would be able to cash it? All they should need to know is that the check itself is valid - which, again, is information that has to be obtained from the issuing bank, not the company that wrote it.

So, on the advice of his attorney, Thomas is suing the bank.
You know what I think should have put a stop to the [evidence-free] idea that the guy was trying to pass bad checks? The fact that he was depositing/cashing three of them. Getting three checks instead of one is exactly the kind of wasteful bureaucratic nonsense one would expect when dealing with a lawsuit. Add that to the fact that he wasn't trying to get all three turned into immediate cash (thus ensuring that to get the rest of the money he'd have to present himself to the bank again) and the bank acted like crazy-ass racists.

I hope he gets a settlement of around triple the value of the checks. That seems pretty just and might be enough to encourage them to figure out a way to handle checks...something I thought banks had figured out a few decades ago.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 01:19 PM   #3
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They wanted the checks to be fraudulent.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 01:32 PM   #4
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Yeah, I'd represent this guy. The facts on their face are pretty damning. It would be nice if he could turn up some other men of color who faced similar issues.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 01:33 PM   #5
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I should also note that if I was depositing checks and a bank teller - or assistant manager or manager or CEO - asked me what they were for, I'd be inclined to tell them "none of your ******* business" (I admit, I'd probably phrase it more nicely the first time). They've got no more need to know why someone is paying me money than they do why I'd be paying someone else with money from one of my bank accounts.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 01:36 PM   #6
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He's lucky the bank handed the checks back to him.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 01:50 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
He's lucky the bank handed the checks back to him.
Once they involved the police they had to make the checks available. If they'd simply declared the checks invalid without calling the police, I doubt they would have given them back.

There's so much competition in the consumer banking space that it seems pretty shocking they'd treat an existing customer (he had a debit card and apparently used it, so they've made money off him) that way. If they had a concern about the validity of the checks, all they had to do is tell him that the funds would be available tomorrow. There's nothing terribly unusual about that when it comes to non-payroll checks and they would have had plenty of time to accurately determine the checks' validity. Now, maybe he had need for some of that cash immediately, but in that case he might have deposited two of them and taken the third elsewhere to see if they could give him cash faster.

Choosing to immediately call the police on a customer is ******* crazy.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 02:07 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
They wanted the checks to be fraudulent.
This. Trying to sort the bank's behavior after that point is futile.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 02:23 PM   #9
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I was slightly annoyed when my bank's fraud department checked up on a wire transfer I made. Not very annoyed, but it was a time sensitive payment and I thought the fraud process may slow things down a bit.* But I understood they were protecting me. To have my bank call the cops on me would likely end in me being arrested for assault.



*It didn't. Although I haven't heard from the Prince much since I sent the money.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 02:25 PM   #10
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lets hope he does better with his next settlement checks.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 02:38 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Babbylonian View Post
I should also note that if I was depositing checks and a bank teller - or assistant manager or manager or CEO - asked me what they were for, I'd be inclined to tell them "none of your ******* business"
I had a teller ask me that one time - My response was "they're for me."
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Old 23rd January 2020, 02:44 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Max_mang View Post
I had a teller ask me that one time - My response was "they're for me."
It's been so long since I deposited a check in person, I can't remember if anyone has ever asked me. It seems like an incredibly rude question given that they're not filling out a form. Neither ATMs nor my banking app have asked that kind of thing.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 02:46 PM   #13
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Sounds like the making of a comedy. Poor black man profiled when trying to deposit his racial discrimination settlement checks.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 02:48 PM   #14
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Have any of you even considered that he might have been making furtive movements?
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Old 23rd January 2020, 03:00 PM   #15
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Let me get this straight. This guy wanted to cash a $13,000 check when his account only had 52 cents in it. Yes, I know the check wasn't drawn on his account, but one of the ways banks protect themselves from check-kiting schemes is to place a hold against your account for the amount of the check cashed. Pretty obvious problem there.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 03:01 PM   #16
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There was a recent incident here that has remained in the news for a couple of weeks. An aboriginal man and his 12yo granddaughter went to a bank to open an account. Note that they did not want any cash from the bank. They wanted to deposit money. The bank deemed the man's government issued ID fraudulent. They called the cops who then proceeded to handcuff both of them while they investigated for fraud. They were, of course, completely innocent. The bank and the police dept are both rightfully being dragged over the coals. The apologies are flying but the man is refusing to accept them. He knows that accepting apologies will do nothing to alter this type of discrimination.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 03:06 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
Let me get this straight. This guy wanted to cash a $13,000 check when his account only had 52 cents in it. Yes, I know the check wasn't drawn on his account, but one of the ways banks protect themselves from check-kiting schemes is to place a hold against your account for the amount of the check cashed. Pretty obvious problem there.
Placing a hold does not include calling the police as part of the process. Also, it seems that an unusual number of people and processes "weren't available that day".
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Old 23rd January 2020, 03:06 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
Let me get this straight. This guy wanted to cash a $13,000 check when his account only had 52 cents in it. Yes, I know the check wasn't drawn on his account, but one of the ways banks protect themselves from check-kiting schemes is to place a hold against your account for the amount of the check cashed. Pretty obvious problem there.
Yes, banks have all kinds of reasonable ways to deal with checks they find suspicious. This bank skipped those reasonable ways and called the cops, following which "this guy" went to another bank where he got exactly what he wanted (and more importantly that to which he was entitled) without issue.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 03:16 PM   #19
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Quote:
Wennerberg said the assistant manager who waited on Thomas was African American, and felt that something didn't "look right," so she called police.
Those black women employees are nothing but trouble!
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Old 23rd January 2020, 03:20 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Shepherd View Post
Those black women employees are nothing but trouble!
There are a large range of skin tones that fall into the general category of "black".
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Old 23rd January 2020, 03:25 PM   #21
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Somebody will have some new settlement checks to deposit soon
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Old 23rd January 2020, 03:30 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by Shepherd View Post
Those black women employees are nothing but trouble!
Originally Posted by Steve View Post
There are a large range of skin tones that fall into the general category of "black".
It's irrelevant anyway, for a couple reasons: The first is that, unless she was the owner of the bank, she is implementing policies and those policies may be racist. The second is that black people can be just as racist as anyone else, particularly once economic class perceptions are added to the equation. Of a black man who worked in his office, my grandfather once said (direct quote) "He's one of the good ones."

The implication that racism doesn't enter into it because the person who called the cops is [probably] also black is invalid on its face.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 03:35 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Babbylonian View Post
It's irrelevant anyway, for a couple reasons: The first is that, unless she was the owner of the bank, she is implementing policies and those policies may be racist. The second is that black people can be just as racist as anyone else, particularly once economic class perceptions are added to the equation. Of a black man who worked in his office, my grandfather once said (direct quote) "He's one of the good ones."

The implication that racism doesn't enter into it because the person who called the cops is [probably] also black is invalid on its face.
I agree.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 04:04 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
Let me get this straight. This guy wanted to cash a $13,000 check when his account only had 52 cents in it. Yes, I know the check wasn't drawn on his account, but one of the ways banks protect themselves from check-kiting schemes is to place a hold against your account for the amount of the check cashed. Pretty obvious problem there.
That is true; but by the bank's own admission, they told him at the moment he made the request that he would have to wait two days before the funds would be available and he immediately replied that was "fine".
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Old 23rd January 2020, 04:11 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Checkmite View Post
That is true; but by the bank's own admission, they told him at the moment he made the request that he would have to wait two days before the funds would be available and he immediately replied that was "fine".
Suspicious! Why wouldn't he go to a check-cashing place where they'd give him money immediately and only incur a 3-5% fee??
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Old 23rd January 2020, 05:03 PM   #26
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Just for the helluva it, I've fired up my Twitter account: @The_Common_Potato I'm feeling awfully disruptive tonight.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 05:13 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by Babbylonian View Post
I should also note that if I was depositing checks and a bank teller - or assistant manager or manager or CEO - asked me what they were for, I'd be inclined to tell them "none of your ******* business" (I admit, I'd probably phrase it more nicely the first time). They've got no more need to know why someone is paying me money than they do why I'd be paying someone else with money from one of my bank accounts.
I think sometimes it's their job to ask questions though. I've been asked questions about largish checks in the past too.

This particular guy was completely innocent of course but some people out there are presumably money laundering or who knows what. Banks can be fined by regulators if they allow money laundering to happen, so maybe sometimes they have legitimate reasons to ask you, the customer, what the money is for. And "none of your business" would not be the right answer.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 05:22 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
I think sometimes it's their job to ask questions though. I've been asked questions about largish checks in the past too.

This particular guy was completely innocent of course but some people out there are presumably money laundering or who knows what. Banks can be fined by regulators if they allow money laundering to happen, so maybe sometimes they have legitimate reasons to ask you, the customer, what the money is for. And "none of your business" would not be the right answer.
They can be fined by regulators if they knowingly allow money laundering to happen, including purposely ignoring patterns of conduct that they know may represent criminal activity. An individual cashing a check (or three at a time) isn't a pattern of anything.

Apart from that, unless the bank employee is actually filling out a form that will contain that information, they're not going to be able to identify jack squat.

"What's this check for?"
"It's payment from a corporation that subsidizes lap dances for your mom."
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Old 23rd January 2020, 05:23 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
I think sometimes it's their job to ask questions though. I've been asked questions about largish checks in the past too.

This particular guy was completely innocent of course but some people out there are presumably money laundering or who knows what. Banks can be fined by regulators if they allow money laundering to happen, so maybe sometimes they have legitimate reasons to ask you, the customer, what the money is for. And "none of your business" would not be the right answer.
I can't disagree with that. However, I took my late mum to Paris in 1992 and the concierge of the George V hotel did apologise when he phoned me in my room to say that my bank was questioning my payment. At no stage was it suggested that anything fraudulent was going on. (Apart from the very questioning.)

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Old 23rd January 2020, 05:47 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Babbylonian View Post
They can be fined by regulators if they knowingly allow money laundering to happen, including purposely ignoring patterns of conduct that they know may represent criminal activity. An individual cashing a check (or three at a time) isn't a pattern of anything.

Apart from that, unless the bank employee is actually filling out a form that will contain that information, they're not going to be able to identify jack squat.

"What's this check for?"
"It's payment from a corporation that subsidizes lap dances for your mom."
OK, I'm just saying that I have personally been asked questions about checks I was depositing in the past. In those cases, it didn't cause me any trouble because apparently they accepted my answers (maybe the fact that I'm white made them more inclined to believe me; I don't know). The problem in this case as I see it is not that they asked questions, but that they unjustifiably jumped to the wrong conclusion that the answers they were given weren't true. And that they called the police without any good evidence that the guy was trying to pass fraudulent checks. That's where they went wrong.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 05:49 PM   #31
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The most interesting thing about this story is the black bank manager who tried to railroad a black customer. What's up with that?
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Old 23rd January 2020, 05:56 PM   #32
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In Australia, unless they are bank cheques, they need to go into your account for about a week before the money is available. Is it different in the USA?
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Old 23rd January 2020, 06:03 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Puppycow View Post
OK, I'm just saying that I have personally been asked questions about checks I was depositing in the past. In those cases, it didn't cause me any trouble because apparently they accepted my answers (maybe the fact that I'm white made them more inclined to believe me; I don't know).
Maybe you don't mind answering questions that someone has no business asking. That's up to you. I'm telling you that unless they have actual reason to believe you're engaged in criminal activity (and depositing/cashing a check, no matter the amount, isn't a good reason by itself), they don't have any business asking you what a check is payment for. After all, it's not like you're going to tell them that the check is "the proceeds from my share of a child slavery ring" or "payment for breaking the knees of a degenerate gambler." So what's the point besides to be either intrusive or rudely chatty?

Now, the IRS might want to ask questions about the deposits of large sums of money, especially if it appears the money wasn't properly reported. Smart bankers, however, don't intrude unnecessarily on their customers' business.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 06:09 PM   #34
Babbylonian
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Originally Posted by rjh01 View Post
In Australia, unless they are bank cheques, they need to go into your account for about a week before the money is available. Is it different in the USA?
If a bank holds my check for more than 1 business day I get irritated. If it's more than 2 I start calling and asking what the **** is the problem. It's the 21st century and everybody's connected. The only reason I excuse the 1 day is due to the volume with which banks have to deal. Otherwise, it shouldn't take more than seconds for one bank to transfer money to another via the check of an account holder.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 06:09 PM   #35
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Banks in the U.S. are required to report transactions over $10,000 to the IRS for (in theory) detection of of tax evasion and money laundering. Because of this, they're generally also on the lookout for situations where it looks like someone is trying to evade the reporting and detection by using multiple checks, each under $10,000, for the same transaction.

Only one of Thomas's checks was under $10,000. The other two (had the bank accepted them) would have been reported normally. But it's possible that "oh, look, three checks at the same time from the same issuer to the same person" triggered a reflexive response regardless of the specific amounts. Which could explain their suspicion that something fraudulent was going on.

And what explains their calling the police, instead of just reporting the "suspicious" transaction(s) as required to the IRS? My guess for that would be, racial discrimination.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 06:21 PM   #36
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Always surprises me when I here these US cheque stories that they still use them.

It is supposed to be one of the most forunner countries in technology but can't just do automatic payments from one account to another over night
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Old 23rd January 2020, 06:26 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by Babbylonian View Post
It's irrelevant anyway, for a couple reasons: The first is that, unless she was the owner of the bank, she is implementing policies and those policies may be racist. The second is that black people can be just as racist as anyone else, particularly once economic class perceptions are added to the equation. Of a black man who worked in his office, my grandfather once said (direct quote) "He's one of the good ones."

The implication that racism doesn't enter into it because the person who called the cops is [probably] also black is invalid on its face.
I completely agree with that bit. When I read that I just knew that someone was bound to fixate on that point and either say something sarcastic about it or something to the effect of it can't be racism if the employee was also black. It just isn't true.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 06:33 PM   #38
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Originally Posted by rjh01 View Post
In Australia, unless they are bank cheques, they need to go into your account for about a week before the money is available. Is it different in the USA?
I didn't see anything about it, but I assumed they were bank checks. I can't imagine that anyone would accept a legal settlement payment as a personal check (or 3) . Nuh-uh. Not even from a business. They will pay it with a certified bank check only.

Don't know it for sure, but I can't imagine it otherwise.
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Old 23rd January 2020, 06:39 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
The most interesting thing about this story is the black bank manager who tried to railroad a black customer. What's up with that?
No, not really. As pointed out upthread, it's irrelevant.

(And if you assume that black people can never be racist to other black people, you'd be wrong there too.)
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Old 23rd January 2020, 06:41 PM   #40
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Originally Posted by Babbylonian View Post
Maybe you don't mind answering questions that someone has no business asking. That's up to you.
I do mind, but I figured that the reason they were asking was not out of idle curiosity, but actually part of their job.
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