LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – A widower and retired U.S. Marine is the latest victim of a bank account takeover.
Curtis E. Johnson, 82, and his daughter, Teresa Buechele, discovered a string of counterfeit checks forged and apparently endorsed and deposited by a woman listed on a Navy Federal Credit Union account in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
The checks were deposited last November by the woman, who no one in the family had ever heard of.
“My jaw just about hit the floor,“ Johnson told News 6 from his Lake County home. “I mean I was like, ‘What? You’ve got to be kidding me, something’s bad wrong here!’”
His daughter found overdraft notices from her father’s bank when she visited him last year.
“He thought it was junk mail,” she said. ”My mother always took care of the accounts before she passed away. He thought everything was fine.”
She told News 6 that her father lost more than $52,000 and admits they were late in alerting the bank because his mail was sent to his Florida home from Kentucky.
“(The bank) let not one, not two, but all of these transactions go through and deplete his account without freezing it all,” Buechele said.
So far, the bank has returned roughly $13,000 in stolen funds to Johnson, but he is still fighting to get the rest of the money returned.
News 6 presented his bank documents to agents with the U.S Secret Service Orlando Office.
Special Agent in Charge Caroline O’Brien-Buster said her team is currently investigating 30 bank account takeovers linked to counterfeit checks and ATM cards in Central Florida.
“It’s not unique,“ O’Brien said. “Account takeover is identity theft. It’s not so much are you going to be a victim, it’s when you are a victim, what do you do?”
O’Brien said Florida bank account holders should be checking their accounts daily.
In Johnson’s case, she cautioned not to jump to conclusions because the woman in North Carolina could be a “mule” used by an organized ring to move money out of the country.
“You have to get the entire picture before you say, ‘Oh well, here’s your fraudster,’” she said.
Bank security experts told News 6 that once you discover evidence of an account takeover, you should immediately contact your financial institution and request assistance with the following actions:
- Disable online access to accounts.
- Change online banking passwords.
- Open new accounts as appropriate.
If you suspect your account has been infiltrated, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can present your situation to law enforcement.