Hit By Scammer and Bank

(WSVN) - She got taken by one of those check scams you might have heard about, and then something you don’t hear about: Her bank came after her as well. Plus, does a teacher returning to the classroom get worker’s comp if they contract the coronavirus? Those answers and more in Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

When you walk into Mary’s back yard, you are reminded of how wonderful big shade trees are.

Mary Beth Fleck, stunned by scammer and bank: “It really is a slice of heaven. This yard has been a lifesaver.”

A lifesaver for Mary, because recently, her life has become a mess.

Mary Beth Fleck: “I was the victim of fraud. I was the victim.”

When COVID hit, Mary could no longer organize fundraisers for various groups. Without a paycheck, she went online and thought she found a job where she could work from home.

Mary Beth Fleck: “Provide you all the equipment and I said, ‘Oh, this is it. This is where I’ll be able to make some money.’”

That day, Mary had 73 cents in her checking account, so when the company sent a $3,210 check to her, she went straight to the bank, excited but cautious.

Mary Beth Fleck: “I even said to the gal, ‘Is this a legitimate check?’ and she was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we get these all the time.’”

The crook had told Mary to buy $2,000 in eBay cards and send it to a business for the equipment to do her new job.

Mary did. A couple of days later, she got a call from her bank.

Mary Beth Fleck: “She said, ‘Check was fraudulent. You owe us all that money,’ and she said, ‘We’re going to prosecute you. It’s for the fraudulent check,’ and I just lost it.”

Believe it or not, it got worse. Mary didn’t have the money to give to the bank, so they turned her over to a collection agency.

Mary Beth Fleck: “His response was, ‘Sorry, I was hired by this bank to get the money.’ It’s brought me to my knees, because I started to cry.”

In March, COVID took her job. In June, a crook scammed her, and in September, a bank hammered her.

Mary Beth Fleck: “Why am I responsible? Your bank cashed the check. I asked if it was legitimate, and I was assured by the teller it was.”

Well, if you get taken by a check scammer, can you be prosecuted and have to pay it back to the bank as well, Howard?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “Mary did nothing wrong, so she cannot be prosecuted for any crime, and if the bank told her the check was good, and she could prove that, they might be responsible for the loss, but odds are, you cannot prove it, and in that case, even though you got taken by the scammer, you have to repay the money.”

Federal law requires banks to release the money from the check within a few days, but it takes longer to determine if the check is worthless. Is there a way to avoid that?

Howard Finkelstein: “Either don’t touch the money until it clears or go to the bank that it was issued from. They can determine right away if it’s a good check, and you can cash it immediately or know it’s a scam.”

The Broward Elections Supervisor said, because you have a federal right to vote, if you don’t want to follow the county order to wear a mask in the precinct, you can vote without a mask. Can he ignore the county mask order?

Howard Finkelstein: “In my opinion, no. It’s also a local order you cannt smoke inside a building, so is it now OK to smoke a cigar while you vote? Of course not, and that’s why I believe, legally, you have to wear a mask while you vote.”

We heard from a teacher who wants to return to the classroom, but if she goes back to work and contracts the coronavirus at school, will she get paid or get worker’s comp?

Howard Finkelstein: “You can use sick leave or vacation time, but after that runs out, you have to prove you contracted COVID at school to get worker’s comp. How do you prove you got it there and didn’t get it at a gas station or a grocery store? It’s a slippery slope, and right now, it’s going to be fascinating to see how school districts treat these teachers and administrators.”

I spoke to the bank. Good news for Mary: they are going to stop their bill collector, and then, talk to her next year about repaying that money. That’s good, because Mary has a job now, as well as advice for anyone desperate in this COVID era for money who gets taken by a scammer.

Mary Beth Fleck: “Don’t beat yourself up for it, because I’ve beaten myself up. I mean, here I am with a master’s degree. How could I have gotten snookered for something like that?”

Howard Finkelstein: “And remember, if someone sends you a check and says send some of that money to them or someone else, it’s a scam. No one sends checks like that.”

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Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
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