Thursday, June 23, 2005

a moral financial dilemma

Interesting thing happening at the bank today.

We went in to close a checking account. The teller waved us up and I told him I wanted to close the account. Put my card in the slot and put in my PIN. He asked about how much was in the account. I assumed this was a security question, albeit an unusual one, but answered that it had between 6000 and 8000 dollars, and we weren't sure because we hadn't used the account in a month or so. He asked us if we wanted a check for $8855.31, or if we wanted cash. Check, of course – who would choose to carry around that much cash? In ones, the mate joked. I was also privately pleased to learn that the amount was a bit higher than what we estimated.

The teller printed up a check from me, to me, and signed it. He gave us a receipt that was printed with (essentially) "check for $8855.31" and below that said "Cash $1000 received." This was a bit mysterious and I asked him what that was. He said it was a mistake and didn't know why it was there, and scribbled it out with a black marker. He didn't ask us to sign anything. We went back to the car, which was parked in front of the bank, clearly visible to the teller. Inside, I examined the receipt again, pointing out to the mate the "cash" bit, tipping it to the light so I could read under the black marker.

A minute later, the teller came out and told us he was supposed to give us $1000, that there was some kind of problem and that we were supposed to get this amount. We came in and he counted out the amount in hundreds. Somewhere in the process, he took the black-marked receipt and replaced it with one that looked similar, but with several NCR copies, and which showed the check and cash amounts. I asked him how this could have happened and he said he didn't know, that he was new and had never closed out an account before. At no point did he ever say our account had actually contained $9855.

We left, but something about this incident smelled funny – 'abnormal' was stamped all over it. A receipt is a receipt, and particularly at a bank, for something to be wrong and require marking-out is strange. We returned to the bank and related what had occurred to the manager. She thanked us for bringing this to her today (before the day's receipts were shredded), and let on that there had been previous odd incidents with this particular teller. She had watched the entire transaction and also thought it strange that the teller called us back in to give us the cash. There was no reason for the account to reflect $8855 when there was actually $9855 in the account, and she confirmed that $9855 had been the amount in there.

There was a phone message from the manager when we returned from lunch. When I called back she said she had recovered the black-marked receipt from the trash while the teller was at lunch. She asked if I had signed anything and I said no. She said that he said he didn't get our signature because he was unaware of procedure.

Right now, I am in a contemplative mood about this. "Previous odd incidents" arouses my suspicion. If this teller attempted theft, then as far as I'm concerned, theft did occur the moment we stepped out of the bank, and the fact that he could see us examining the receipt almost certainly spurred him to attempt to correct it. The troublesome part is we don't know whether he has successfully stolen from other customers, and if so, whether or not the bank manager would tell us. This information would allow us to press criminal charges against the teller.

And should we press charges at all? We have nothing to gain from it, since we got our money, but is it right to make an attempt to keep this man from future jobs in financial institutions or jobs that involve handling money? If the bank finds him dodgy, will they privately blacklist him to future employers, or will they hush it up to prevent negative publicity to the bank? Perhaps this incident will scare him away from embezzlement, but if it doesn't, do we have a moral obligation to go through the trouble of protecting others from his future depredations? $1000 is not small money to anyone, not even a millionaire. It's a year of utilities, it's 2 years of cell phone service or cable TV. It's a good chunk of a month's rent, or a year of gasoline. What if his next victim is a little old lady on a pension?

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