Fraudulent Check–You Really Didn’t Do That Did You?

I went to high school in a very small town. There was a small family owned restaurant, local small town bank (no large chain banking), a grain elevator, one church as I remember, and maybe another business or two that I have forgotten about. The high school itself had only a total of 125 students from that town, a couple of neighboring communities, and a large area of the county farming community. Everyone knew everyone, and for good or bad, everyone knew everything you did or did not do.

In class, I excelled in bookkeeping, along with one of my classmates. In fact it came so easily, that we were extremely bored with the daily assignments.

Our teacher recognized that problem and came up with a unique way to address it. It seems that for the next class year, they would be using a new bookkeeping text and workbook.

In case you are not aware of it, anytime a new text book/workbook is introduced, it is not uncommon to find mistakes in them. So to give us a “challenge”, our teacher asked the two of us to work through the NEW workbook assignments, looking for any mistakes, and make the corrections necessary, so the teacher would not have to do it himself before the next school year. In addition, we still had to do the regular assignments in the current workbook. For me this was the kind of challenge that I relished.

As far as the rest of my classmates, it was well known what our teacher had assigned us to do, and therefore what happened next surprised them and most likely will surprise you too.

Now for a little banking history lesson—in today’s modern technological banking system, those who still use paper checks will recognize those digital banking codes printed on the bottom of the checks. The first is the bank routing number, which identifies the unique name for the bank where your money is deposited. The next number is your own personal account number at that bank. This served a two-fold purpose. It made transactions much easier to mechanically process, and it insured that the writer of the check really did have an account with that bank.

Back in the 1960’s, when I was in high school, those digital codes were not on the checks. There was such a thing as a “counter” check, found appropriately, on the counter of most local businesses. The only identifying banking information was the name of the bank that was printed on the pad of the counter checks. Other than the lack of those digital numbers, the counter checks were very similar to today’s checks.

One day, during bookkeeping class, I was informed I had a phone call in the school office. I left class, took the phone call, and when I returned to class, the instructor wanted to know what the phone call was that was so important to interrupt his class.

His response to me after I told him was “You didn’t really do that did you?”

You see I used to leave school a lot at lunch time and walk the couple blocks to the local restaurant, order a burger meal there. Many students would do the same. When finished I would grab a counter check from the pad on the counter and fill it out, sign it, and pay for my meal that way. I did have my own checking account, but not in the local bank. I did this often enough that no one was worried when I would mark out the name of the bank on the counter check, and just write in the name of the bank I used. No problem, I did it fairly often and it was always honored.

The problem came the day I FORGOT to mark out the name of the bank on the counter check.

Of course it went to the local bank, not mine, and of course I had no account there. Therefore that was a fraudulent check.

That is when I got the phone call at school, from the local bank, asking me if I had intended to change the name of the bank. Remember, this is a small town who knew everything that everyone did.

I apologized profusely and told them that I had forgotten to mark out their banks name, putting in my own. The banker said he thought that was what happened and so he changed the name for me and sent it on to the correct bank.

So now you know why my teacher said to me, (too loudly in my opinion), and therefore to the entire bookkeeping class—You really Didn’t Do That Did You?      YES I DID!

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