Daily exercise plan thwarts check fraud

HR Sports Club rebounds from major scam

Daily exercise routines promise to bring about good health and longer life. For Clark and Carol Emmerson, one particular daily routine also ensured the survival of their business.

The Emmersons, who are the co-owners of the Hood River Sports Club, keep a commitment to personally monitor their business accounts daily. Luckily, and perhaps not surprisingly for a pair who promote disciplined exercise, they practice what they preach.

“On July 3, I checked on our checking account in the morning and saw about $25,000 had been written against us in checks that I didn’t recognize,” said Clark Emmerson. An immediate call to the bank brought out surprising information.

“It seems like they had some knowledge of our checks. The font sizes and styles were very similar,” said Emmerson. “What is so distressing is that there were a number of security features that were missing from these forgeries but they were deposited anyway.”

Three checks, resembling Sports Club-style documents, had been written and deposited into several individual savings and checking accounts in a JP Morgan Chase bank in southern California. After some bank research, it was discovered that the money had then been transferred multiple times through a series of accounts.

Emmerson and both the banks and police investigators are not sure how the thieves obtained the banking information and check styles.

“Really, there are so many possibilities. There is no fail-safe way to prohibit this kind of fraud in the future,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is your own diligence in checking your accounts that protects you.”

By the time Emmerson had found the fraud, within about 14 hours, $500 in cash from the $24,757 in deposits had already been withdrawn.

“I’m sure that they were thinking ‘It’s a holiday weekend and no one is looking,’” he said. “We could have lost it all by Monday.”

The good news is that with Emmerson’s fast action, the account was closed immediately and a hold was placed on the funds deposited into the thieves’ accounts.

“We prevented a fourth check from being deposited. That one was for $14,500,” Emmerson said. “Who knows how many they were planning over the holiday weekend.”

Hood River Police are working with the Emmersons on the criminal aspect of the case.

“They have been very diligent. They are trying to subpoena videotapes from the bank,” said Emmerson. “We know what branch it was, the people’s ‘names’ and their account numbers. It does seem like it is a sophisticated check-fraud ring.”

The Emmersons’ local U.S. Bank branch and the California bank involved do agree that the checks were forgeries. JP Morgan Chase has notified them that they have the entire amount of stolen funds in safe holding.

Unfortunately for Emmerson, bank policies allow Chase to hold those funds for 45 days from the time of the fraud discovery.

“They are pretty tight-lipped about why they do that,” he said. “We know we are going to get the money back, but it may be the full 45 days.

“That could hurt a business drastically. We are fortunate that we can run our operations without those funds.

“You really do have to protect your checks and account numbers as much as you can,” said Emmerson. “We have also looked at other ways to tighten up our other systems.”

Ironically, Emmerson had two other recent experiences with attempted fraud against the business. A recent Sports Club VISA bill arrived with a series of fraudulent charges on it, which required an investigation and removal process.

The third incident was more personal.

Offering two Sports Club excess kayaks for sale on Craigslist, Emmerson received an email request to buy them, with the condition that they be held for a few days under a “good faith” deposit of $50 in the form of a cashier’s check.

The check arrived made out as $1,050, with an accompanying email. The “buyer” asked Emmerson to deposit the check and to forward back the $1,000 overpayment. The kayaks “would be picked up over the next weekend” when the rest of the cost would ostensibly be paid.

Emmerson recognized the scam and brought the forged cashier’s check to U.S. Bank employees who confirmed it was a fake.

“It’s a lesson to be learned by everybody. All kinds of funny business are going on out there,” said Emmerson.

As sobering as a morning weigh-in, Emmerson’s daily routine of bank checkups proved the best preventative exercise for the world’s dark underbelly.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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