Bamboozled September 25, 2017: 3 banks and a missing $500 check. Where did this customer’s money go?

Margaret Fittin with her Discover statement and canceled check.(George McNish/For NJ Advance Media)

Margaret Fittin likes to pay her bills in full.

But now, one of her payments is missing. Three financial institutions, over more than four months, weren’t able to figure out what happened.

And then there was finger-pointing, which wasn’t doing anything to make this wronged customer whole.

In May 2017, Fittin received a bill for her Discover credit card, and she paid it the day after.

She wrote a check for the entire $503.61 balance from her Bank of America checking account.

All was well, she thought.

Then she received her next month’s Discover bill. It included her new purchases, but also the $503.61 amount she paid the month before, with a late fee and interest charges.

Fittin said she called Discover, and a rep said the company never received her check.

Next, Fittin checked with Bank of America.

“My statement from Bank of America… shows that check 2606, 5/11/17, in the amount of $503.61 made out to Discover, was deducted from my account,” Fittin said. “I called the bank and they sent me a copy of the front and back of this check.”

The money was indeed out of her account.

She sent Discover a copy of the cancelled check and waited for an explanation.

She received a letter from the credit card company on June 28.

“This check does not appear to have been cashed by Discover Bank,” the letter said. “We suggest that you return to your bank for resolution of the problem.”

Not wanting to incur more interest charges, Fittin sent a new check to Discover to pay off the balance.

Discover, as a courtesy, removed the $27 late fee and about half of the interest charges.

Fitten went back to Bank of America.

At her local branch in Glen Ridge, she registered a fraud case, she said.

And then she waited.

“I have called the bank fraud department many times and they have told me that there is an analyst on the case and this could take up to 120 days to find a resolution,” she said. “I called once a week for a few weeks but received no information and yet they have my money.”

Discover said it never received that first check from Fittin, but Bank of America removed the money from the account.

Who has her money?

DIGGING DEEPER

We reviewed Fittin’s credit card and bank statements and a copy of the cancelled check.

The back of the check, which would normally show a signature or stamp and a bank account number for the person or entity that cashed the check, was blank.

Utterly and completely blank.

It seemed as if no one endorsed the check.

We turned to Nessa Feddis, the American Bankers Association vice president for consumer protection and payments, to understand who might be responsible.

She said payment system rules put the liability on the entity that’s most able to prevent possible fraud.

“In this case, when you’re looking at a fraudulent endorsement, the bank that takes the check for deposit or cashes it is generally responsible for ensuring that the person depositing the check or cashing it is the person named on the check as a payee,” Feddis said.

She said the institution that accepts the check from the person presenting the check has the best ability to manage the risk because they have a relationship with the person depositing or cashing the check.

In this case, Feddis said, it seems “something got overlooked.”

“Sometimes systems aren’t perfect and some things may fall through the cracks,” she said.

But this crack was a big one for the customer, and until it’s resolved, Fittin is out more than $500.

The front and back of the cancelled check.

Looking more closely at the check in question, the back of the check offered a clue we initially overlooked.

It shows no signatures or stamps, but at the bottom is a typed line that says “electronic endorsements.”

Listed there is JP Morgan Chase Bank as the “Rtn Loc/BOFD,” which stands for Return Location/Bank of First Deposit. That means the check was presented to JP Morgan Chase, which okayed the cashing of the check.

Bank of America is listed as the “Pay Bank,” or the bank that paid the funds out of a customer account.

We reached out to Chase, and while we waited for a response, we checked with Bank of America.

It confirmed “the check was negotiated at Chase Bank, and per industry standard, Bank of America relied on Chase to verify the endorsement when the check was negotiated,” a spokeswoman said. “Unfortunately we are unable to provide any information as to how this check was handled by Chase.”

Chase wasn’t able to give anything more substantial. It said it hadn’t yet received any claim from Bank of America about this check being a problem.

We asked Bank of America to see if it had involved Chase in its investigation.

We didn’t get an answer, but Fittin received a call from Bank of America. Even though she had already filed a fraud complaint through her branch, Fitten was given a new fraud investigation form to complete.

“This is probably because of you getting involved and now they’re doing something about it,” Fittin said.

She said she worked with the bank manager to complete the fraud forms and make sure they were sent to the correct Bank of America department.

So maybe Bank of America never took the step to pass Fittin’s initial complaint to Chase?

Discover, in the meantime, had no comment other to say it didn’t receive the payment, and Fittin needed to check back with her bank.

We gave it more than a month, and we checked back in with the banks to see where this case stood.

Bank of America confirmed it gave Chase the information it had a month ago, but Bank of America said it hadn’t heard of any resolution yet.

We tried to reach Chase all last week, but it didn’t answer our calls or emails.

Until Friday night, just before our deadline.

“We didn’t receive a claim from BofA until today,” a spokesman said. “Our team spoke with BofA today to let them know we’d be processing in 7-10 days and their representative said she was going to contact the customer to let her know.”

That didn’t jive with what Bank of America said. We went back to the bank, which confirmed it passed the information to Chase on Aug. 16.

At this point, does it matter?

Because as this all hashed out, Fittin didn’t receive a phone call from anyone about this alleged refund. It’s no wonder she was frustrated with all the “customer service” she received.

We hope to have good news for Fittin today.

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