Man 1, Bank 0
October 20, 2004 1:02 PM   Subscribe

You know those fake but real-looking checks for absurd amounts of money that sometimes show up in your mailbox? Go ahead, deposit it. This guy did.
posted by emelenjr (49 comments total)
This is not a snark, but I think this (at least, a much earlier version) is one of the first things I ever read on the web, back in my Lynx browser days. It's a great story and I'm glad to be able to read it again. Thanks...
posted by turaho at 1:10 PM on October 20, 2004

Everytime I get one of those stupid checks, I think of what this guy did. Amusing blast from the past, emelenjr.
posted by shoepal at 1:12 PM on October 20, 2004

It'd be funnier to deposit it into someone else's account.
posted by fenriq at 1:27 PM on October 20, 2004

*waaah* I never get junkmail, I want a fake check too. *sob*
posted by dabitch at 1:32 PM on October 20, 2004

why is his face on every page? I wanna smack it with a hot, greasy spatula.
posted by mcsweetie at 1:36 PM on October 20, 2004


Never read that. Thanks for sharing.
posted by xmutex at 1:36 PM on October 20, 2004

I wasn't aware the story had been around for a while... a friend sent me the link today and I'd never seen it or read anything similar.

I recently started working part-time as a bank teller, which is why I found it so amusing.

If I was going to send someone a fake check in the mail that could possibly be considered a real negotiable check, I think I'd want to put a fake routing number and account number on there. It seems odd that the account information on the fake check was correct.
posted by emelenjr at 1:36 PM on October 20, 2004

This seemed like an interesting story, but by the end of part three, I was so tired of slogging through the padding, self-promotion and unnecessary detail that I gave up. He must be an incredibly tedious professional speaker. (I liked the cat picture, though.)
posted by Faze at 1:37 PM on October 20, 2004

Faze-- No one's ever as good as you, are they? You must be an incredibly tedious person.
posted by xmutex at 1:47 PM on October 20, 2004

This was also posted back in 2001, for those who are curious.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:49 PM on October 20, 2004

And I'm pretty sure I originally read it well before 2001. Good story though.
posted by salmacis at 2:02 PM on October 20, 2004

This, and other incidents like it, is why companies don't actually send fake promotional checks out much anymore.
posted by kindall at 2:06 PM on October 20, 2004

Upon further reading; love this e-mail he received:

"My first experience with America's junk mail, "get rich quick" scams was when I first came to the US from Hong Kong eight years ago. I remember the time when I got a "check" like yours. I first felt very happy, then felt very cheated after I was told by my friends it was "junk mail". Even now, when I go back to Hong Kong and China, when people ask me about America, among all the things I tell them about America, I also tell them "America is the land of junk mail and scams."
posted by xmutex at 2:11 PM on October 20, 2004

I'm with Faze.

The padding.

The padding!
posted by Outlawyr at 2:15 PM on October 20, 2004

Not only the padding, and the self-promotion, but first he asks for a tip (via PayPal) in the ol' tip jar and subsequently he announces he's selling the story on VHS and DVD. Either one without the other, I'd understand, but together that's a bit much.
posted by alumshubby at 2:27 PM on October 20, 2004

Even Faze is right twice a day.

I developed a way of getting through the story - which I really did want to get to the end of - without reading every sweat-dripping moment by some judicious hopping/skimming. Fun story, but yeah, I was sick of the guy, and especially that face, by the end.
posted by soyjoy at 2:31 PM on October 20, 2004

The best part is when he calls one of his friends for advice and hears:

Certainly many people will think what you’ve done is frightening and scary, but that’s why they’re not you. You’re you precisely because you do things like this. Look at you! You launched your own speaking career without any training. You wrote a book because one day you got the inspiration to. A lot of people don't do things like that because of fear. I think it’s fantastic that you deposited one of those junk checks.

Nevertheless, a great story. Thanks emelenjr.
posted by Ljubljana at 2:32 PM on October 20, 2004

Great story. I first read it eons ago through Justin Hall's page (mentioned in the story) but this seems to be the big, updated version.
posted by cell divide at 2:41 PM on October 20, 2004

What a crock of horseshit. The mockup of the Wall Street Journal was a nice touch though. Has anyone tried to verify any of this? ;-P
posted by mischief at 2:45 PM on October 20, 2004

Yeah mischief - the fact that there are no First Interstate Bank branches in San Francisco makes me think this is just a story that slipped through the Snopes cracks....
posted by piedrasyluz at 2:55 PM on October 20, 2004

that would be pretty crazy if this was a hoax thats been going on this long. care to elaborate on that claim, piedrasyluz?
posted by bob sarabia at 2:57 PM on October 20, 2004

Yeah mischief - the fact that there are no First Interstate Bank branches in San Francisco makes me think this is just a story that slipped through the Snopes cracks....

Because, as he points out, First Interstate was acquired by Wells Fargo mere days after this situation was resolved. He's a little bit of a self-promoter, but I think he's trustworthy.

An oldie but still a goodie.
posted by Epenthesis at 3:04 PM on October 20, 2004

Well, go to the First Interstate Bank's web site, for starters. Its a Montana/Wyoming regional bank. Googling "First interstate bank of california" and first interstate bank san francisco" brings back nothing resembling a retail bank with many branches. I live in the Bay Area and I've never seen such a bank. Maybe BofA swallowed it up and this story dates from a decade ago, but seems fishy prima facie...
posted by piedrasyluz at 3:07 PM on October 20, 2004

The result is so awkward and anti-climatic that I have to believe it's true. In the end the bank won. It suffered some embarassment, but it won. It got all the money back. Neither did the junk mailer apparently suffer. I mean I admire his tenacity, sure, but after reading it, I still don't have a firm understanding of why he did what he did. He wanted the bank to treat him politely, I guess, but they didn't, not really, even when forced to.
posted by picea at 3:14 PM on October 20, 2004

Wells-Fargo history

relevant excerpt:
A merger with First Interstate Bancorp in 1996 doubled Wells Fargo in assets, again, to $108 billion, extended it across ten Western states, and added the histories of about 500 additional community banks and financial companies.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 3:14 PM on October 20, 2004

I'm confused - why wouldn't the junk mail company be on the hook for the money? If it was actually a negotiable instrument, would not that company be held liable for checks it sends around the country?

Also did they seriously put a real bank account number, transfer number and branch number on a fake advertisment? What marketing flunky would even have access to that information?
posted by loquax at 3:17 PM on October 20, 2004

personally I think it must be fake because I lived on the street in SF where the WSJ is dropped off, 2 blocks away from Milano's (the pizzeria where the waitress quips, "sounds like you 2 are planning to take over the world")

the name of the street is not Irvine, it is Irving - why would anyone lie about that? to protect the good neighborhood community surrounding 9th & Irving? I think not.

just kidding, this story rocks, and I believe every word... excepting, of course, 'Irvine'

for a *real hoax* (!) try John Titor.

please note also that unsecured credit (yeah, like credit cards) is not legally binding, as banks are credited the amount of a credit line they issue to accounts at the time they are opened, they have no legal recourse to claim repayment. unsecured credit debt consilidation amounts to writing off the debt based on previous litigation... in other words the debtor no longer fears the creditor, so they may as well give up the chase.
posted by gkr at 3:18 PM on October 20, 2004

It's true--i remember hearing about it (in 97? 98?) I think it might have been a netsurfer digest link or something.

He should have kept the money. They were assholes about their own mistake, and threatened him too. Granted, he got priceless publicity, but he would have gotten that anyway, and gotten to keep the money.
posted by amberglow at 3:20 PM on October 20, 2004

I checked the WSJ archives and it is there - It's not a hoax, though I did have a hard time believing all the self-flattery.

Copyright Dow Jones & Company Inc Aug 16, 1995

Patrick Combs recently performed an experiment that any medieval alchemist would aspire to: He turned a piece of junk mail into cold, hard cash.

The only problem is, he performed the experiment on a bank, and the bank wants its money back.

Mr. Combs, a 29-year-old San Francisco author, was one of 40 million Americans who recently received a fake check in the mail as part of a promotional campaign by the Association of Certified Liquidators, a company that buys and resells stores' unsold goods.

Unlike the other recipients, however, Mr. Combs deposited the $95,093.35 "check" in his account at Los Angeles-based First Interstate Bancorp, as a lark. He just wanted to see what would happen, he says.

"I was absolutely certain the bank wouldn't cash it," says Mr. Combs.

But lo and behold, the bank credited the entire sum to his account by May 22, the next business day.

Mr. Combs waited three weeks, expecting the bank to discover its error. When it didn't, he withdrew every last penny and put a cashier's check for the full amount in his safe-deposit box at the bank -- and he has a deposit slip and copy of the cashier's check to prove it.

"There's no way I'd leave the bank with that much money," he says. "If fate can give it to me, it can take it away just as fast."

The bank now hopes to do just that. A week after he withdrew the money, Mr. Combs discovered -- when an automated teller machine ate his bank card -- that his account had been frozen, he says. He also received what he describes as threatening messages on his home answering-machine from bank representatives ordering him to give back the loot. Mr. Combs refused. He says he would have returned the money if the bank had been more polite.

"I would have liked the bank to just call me and admit it erred," says Mr. Combs. "And maybe take me to lunch."

First Interstate, citing customer confidentiality, declines to comment on the case.

ACL President Mitch Klass is surprised by the financial uproar caused by his company's errant check.

"No one has ever tried to cash one of our promotional checks before," he says. "I didn't even know it this time. We're going to have to check into this."

posted by hoborg at 3:23 PM on October 20, 2004

a yahoo pick of the week in 96

posted by amberglow at 3:27 PM on October 20, 2004

He now lives in a van down by the river.
posted by donovan at 3:53 PM on October 20, 2004

there's a reference in there to a teenaged justin hall and
posted by quonsar at 5:28 PM on October 20, 2004

I work at a bank, and have dealt with similar situations, so this character and his story have always irritated me to no end. A few things in particular bug me, like this alleged quote from a bank manager:

You're safe to spend it, Mr. Combs. By law, checks can’t be returned after ten business days -- that’s to protect depositors.

While it's true that there are strict timeframes for drawee banks to return unpaid items, it is not at all uncommon for bogus checks to be returned to the depository bank after ten business days because of processing delays at the Fed. Sure, the check may have had "electronic banking numbers" on the bottom, but since this was an invalid seven-digit number, the check could have easily been manually (mis)routed, returned, (re)(mis)routed, and finally sent back to the depository bank.

He also doesn't mention that the check is missing the drawee bank's name, which is an element of negotiability under the Uniform Commercial Code. He ignores this, of course, but the check would be worthless even without the 'non-negotiable' language printed on it.

Would my bank appreciate the joke? I surmised they would.

Indeed, banks have always been known for their sense of humor, especially when tens of thousands of dollars are involved. What a dick.
posted by Hlewagast at 5:52 PM on October 20, 2004

I wouldn't have given it back...
posted by LoopSouth at 6:28 PM on October 20, 2004

I believe it, but the Al Gore/"information superhighway" reference is anachronistic isn't it? Did Al get trouble for that way back then, too?
posted by mblandi at 7:04 PM on October 20, 2004

I have to say, that was a really fun and riveting read... like most web viewers I rarely read multi-page articles to their conclusion, but this one does grab you.
posted by clevershark at 7:06 PM on October 20, 2004

I'm with Faze...interesting story, but damn that was about 10x longer than it needed to be.

Things that have always bothered me about this story....real routing numbers on the check, 30 days for them to come back after the money, going after the customer instead of the check much doesn't make sense.

On preview, thanks Hlewagast :)
posted by dejah420 at 7:27 PM on October 20, 2004

And is he....? He is! He's trying to pull off the Magnum in his photo. Madman!
posted by meech at 7:41 PM on October 20, 2004

I remember seeing a First Interstate bank in the Blind skateboarding video (filmed in So CA, early 1990's). It seemed weird to me because I bank at a Montana/Wyoming First Interstate and I didn't think there were others around. It fits with the Wells Fargo takeover a few years later. Good read, thanks.
posted by dual_action at 7:51 PM on October 20, 2004

Man, zero. Bank won.
posted by interrobang at 8:44 PM on October 20, 2004

I have a feeling that people are very reluctant to pass Patrick Combs the storytelling flashlight on camping trips.

Hey, I remember this guy. He wrote an inpirational college freshman book I read way back in the day.
posted by 4easypayments at 10:36 PM on October 20, 2004

Oh man this takes me back to my early days on the net. Last time I read this he hadn't yet been asked by the bank to give it back. Finally some closure!
posted by TungstenChef at 12:30 AM on October 21, 2004

Forget the " I am holding in a mouth full of juice to spit out" face and that nose in specific; that awful mirrored, wavy type effect is equal to the face for horrific, repulsive quality.
posted by RubberHen at 2:23 AM on October 21, 2004

Perhaps he hangs out at conventions with Mahir and that Star Wars kid too.
posted by RubberHen at 2:24 AM on October 21, 2004

People have been complaining about this guy since '95.
posted by Paragon at 2:45 AM on October 21, 2004

posted by DrDoberman at 4:35 AM on October 21, 2004

best part was the reference to Justin Hall (at frist I didn't know the story was so old) and here in the thread the mention of netsurfer digest. tempus fugit!
posted by samelborp at 5:47 AM on October 21, 2004

dude's been living off this story for almost ten years. So sad.
posted by pekar wood at 7:31 AM on October 21, 2004

i still miss suck.
posted by amberglow at 4:40 PM on October 21, 2004

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