Woman loses $35,000 check in mail

December 9, 2008 7:37:51 PM PST
"The check is in the mail," is a common expression. But if the check is "lost in the mail," it can be a real problem.

In this age of electronic banking you would not think a paper check means a whole lot. But, for a San Francisco woman it really did.

Her lifesavings were at stake.

Leslee Cotlow started a savings account when she was 15. Dollar-by-dollar it got up to $30,000. Then, she loaned the whole thing to a friend.

"This guy was somebody I knew and trusted," she said.

But her friend took off for Canada.

Leslee had to track him down. She hired Canadian lawyers and managed to get her money back with interest only to lose it all over again.

"I mean this is my life's savings. It's sad," she recalled.

Here is what happened.

Back in April Leslee received a cashier's check for $35,000 issued by the Royal Bank of Canada. She deposited it at Washington Mutual in San Francisco.

But, since it was a foreign check it was sent to JP Morgan Chase Bank in New York for processing. Chase sent it to its processing center in Texas.

And, nobody's seen it since.

"The supervisor was tearing up the office looking for it. They couldn't find it," she remembered. "This is cash that's floating around in JP Morgan Chase or a trash dump somewhere," said Cotlow.

Chase said the check was lost in the mail.

They tried to get a new check issued in Canada, but Canadian lawyers were concerned somebody would find the original check and cash it. So, no dice.

Cotlow called Seven on Your Side.

ABC7 Legal Analyst Dean Johnson says the banks are responsible to get Leslee her cash.

"It's your money. It's your check and the piece of paper is really only a symbol of the contractual relationship that exists by the issuance of the check," he said.

Months went by so we contacted Washington Mutual which coincidentally, has since merged with Chase.

After talking with Seven on Your Side Wamu-Chase agreed to put $35,000 of its own funds into Leslee's account, plus $1,035 interest, a five percent interest rate.

Wamu-Chase says it will negotiate with the Canadian Bank to release the funds using an image of the lost check. But, the bank said Leslee should not have to wait any longer for her money and Wamu-Chase apologized for the delay.

After hearing from Seven on Your Side, Leslee went to the bank to see for herself.

"Thank you. Yay!" she exclaimed upon learning the good news.

It is important always to get a receipt for a check you deposit, and not a bad idea to make a photocopy of the check too, the way Leslee did for added protection.


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