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"A Lesson in Check Writing" Excerpt from Dishonest

...Essence was late. The plane was scheduled to take off in less than half an hour and she was late. Honesty had been calling her cell phone and leaving message after message but no response. This was getting old and very tired to Honesty. Checks and credit cards were a hustle that was time sensitive. A credit card could only be used so much before it wasn’t any good. Once the transactions started to catch up with the account, it would be all over. In order to get the maximum use out of that card, they had to hit places back to back.

The same thing went for checks. The best time to start writing checks was on a Wednesday. One account was only good for two weeks total. Honesty wanted to run an account into the ground if she could. That’s why she was so careful about the things that she did. Writing checks was not the only thing that the girls did with a checking account. She also made empty envelope deposits. So before they even started writing checks on any account they had to make sure that certain things were in order.

After the account was opened, one of the girls went to a tag agency or office that held voter’s registration cards and applied for one using the same name information they had used at the bank. That was a valid second piece of identification to have in case a merchant asked. While waiting on that to come they would also be waiting for the Visa check card to come too. They would need to have that in order to carry out phase one of the plan. That was an integral part of the plan. The money portion.

With the bank card, Honesty would go to other banks and use their ATM machines to make “deposits.” She would enter an amount on the deposit envelope and would key the same amount onto the key pad of the machine and would make a deposit. Whatever bank she was using to write the checks at, they would see that a deposit had been made on the wire and would credit the amount of deposit to the account.

The wire is like a virtual bank. Once a deposit or transaction is made at bank ‘A’ the virtual funds would travel to bank ‘B’ and tell it that this money has been deposited. Bank ‘B’ will see the virtual funds from bank ‘A’ and go ahead and honor the posting by making the virtual funds real. Bank ‘B’ would then wait for Bank ‘A’ to send the money over via carrier. Wire posts took about two bank days. Her deposits would never make it.

A bank day ran from two p.m. one day until two p.m. the next day. So if a deposit was made on Monday before two, then it would be available that afternoon. Anything posted after that wouldn’t be available until Tuesday. This was the custom when it came to making deposits via the machine. Fund availability for deposits made via ATM machines would vary depending on the bank’s policy. Some banks allowed the first hundred dollars of a deposit available immediately while some made a generous three-hundred dollars available. There were some banks that held all funds. Honesty did not mess with those banks. Deposits made in person that were made by check, were held for a period of five to ten days. Honesty didn’t make deposits in person. Only withdrawals. She was getting to know banks very well. She was in its mind so to speak. To benefit her hustle the most, she started to ask questions. Honesty wanted to be the best. She already was Oklahoma City’s best check writer. The game changed when she entered it. There were other check writers in the city and they were pretty good at what they did, but she had perfected the game. She didn’t brag about it either. It was a known fact. She ate, slept, and breathed checks.

The others didn’t do it like her. They snatched purses and got checks that way. Some would ask their friends to let them write bad checks on their account and then the friend could call it in stolen. That’s cool, but not nearly as efficient as Honesty’s system. She dared not ever snatch a purse just to get a check book. That was crime on top of crime. Robbery and forgery. If a person was caught stealing a purse the cops would take him straight to jail. With her system they had to build a case. By the time they did that a person could be long gone.

She had all the stores check writing policies down to a science. She knew which stores used which check system and how much a check could be before a clerk had to call for management approval. She knows how to do it all. This was her job. No longer was it just a hustle. Her bank deposits were how she got her cash. She used to go to grocery stores and write checks over the amount of purchase and get cash that way but that didn’t really pay off the way she needed it too. Making empty envelope deposits had a large return. The maximum deposit was nine grand because anything over ten would alert the feds. Honesty and the girls were not down with that. They chose a couple of different machines and hit them up a few times. They would make three or four deposits ranging anywhere from eighteen hundred dollars to eighty- five hundred. Honesty would make two deposits in one day so that they would post on the wire at the same time.

When that happened, she wrote herself a check made out to ‘cash’ and went and got the money. When the last transaction cleared the bank it was time to cancel the check card. That was inevitable. Making the deposits, waiting for them to clear, and withdrawing the money took a total of four days. Honesty started those transactions on a Friday. Before the card was completely cancelled, she would use it for its intended purpose. To shop with it. She could only tell that the card had been officially cancelled when she tried to use it and her purchase was declined. Since it was not a regular credit card and was not stolen, no one had to worry about security codes coming up or even running out of the store to avoid being caught. Honesty hated having it declined though because it usually happened when she had something that she really wanted.

After the card was no longer valid, they started the checks. As long as a checking account number didn’t have any negative information in the check systems, then it would clear. A check system could not determine if there were sufficient funds in an account to cover the amount of purchase. It only scans to see if any checks have been returned on that account or any derogatory information has been entered.

Every day there is something new to be learned about the check game. Everyday, Honesty tried to be that one who learned something new. One day she was in an electronics store buying televisions and when she went to check out her check was declined. The clerk gave her the card to call the check system that didn’t approve the check. She took the card she handed her. Usually when that happened, she would get this ‘are you kidding me?’ look on her face, play like she didn’t know why it was declined and leave. But that day was a learning day. And the clerk really wanted that commission.

“Please give them a call. We have had to call them all day because their system is messing up. It may not be you at all,” she said, handing Honesty the phone after she dialed the number. Honesty took the phone and prepared to hear why she had been declined.

“Thank you for calling Equal Check, how may I help you today?” The customer service representative asked.

“Yes my name is Karen Atwood and I just had a check declined by you all and I would like to know why?”

“I will be more than happy to assist you, ma’am. May I have the numbers at the bottom of the check beginning at the far left hand side?”

Honesty read all the numbers off to the man on the other end of the phone and waited impatiently while he searched for the reason she could not get the 52 inch big screen she picked out today. The sales clerk smiled and attempted to make small talk with Honesty while she held, but Honesty was not in the mood. All she did was smile back and nod her head when the young lady finished speaking.

“Thank you so much for holding ma’am. I found the information. It looks like yesterday we approved check number 3516 for you in the amount of $452.29 at Foot Locker. Today you are asking that we approve check number 3597 in the amount of $14, 632.01.”

“Okay, so what’s the problem? I have ample funds to cover all my purchases.” Liar, liar.

“The amount of the check is not the problem, Mrs. Atwood. Our system received a red flag due the span of numbers from the last check we approved and the one you are using today. It appears to the system that you have written 81 checks between yesterday and today.”

“That’s absurd. No one could do that.” But I can and I did, she thought before continuing. “I see what has happened. My husband bought him and the boys some tennis shoes yesterday and he used his check book. Today I am using mine. That is why the numbers are so far apart.”

“I understand. We see this sort of thing happening all the time. Let me suggest that you all coordinate your check books so that the numbers are within a 50 check span and you all will not encounter this again.”

“Thank you for that information. But what am I going to do about my purchase today? I can not very well go withdraw that amount of cash and have it on my person. That is not safe.”

“No, of course not. I can issue an override in our system but it will not take effect until tomorrow. It takes 24 hours for requests to process. You can ask the clerk to set your items aside and hold them and if we have not received any negative information in our system regarding you account, you can come back, present another check for purchase and we will approve it.”

“Oh, thank you so much, Sir. My husband will be so surprised when he sees this new television. He is going to go bananas over it.”

“I am sure. You have a very lucky husband.”

“How nice of you to say. Thank you so much for all your help. I will let the clerk know what’s going on. Have a nice day.”

“Same to you and thank you for calling Equal Check. Goodbye.”

Honesty ended the conversation with a huge smile on her face. She explained to the clerk what happened and assured her that she would be back tomorrow to complete the transaction. Both women were happy. Desiree, who was with Honesty that day, looked puzzled.

“What the hell are you smiling about? You hate getting your checks denied.”

“I know Des, but dude just told me how not to get anymore checks declined prematurely.”

“Huh? But you told me what he said and I don’t remember you all having that conversation. I was standing right there.”

“I know you were. Listen to this; he said the computer thought I had written a bunch of checks because it reads in numerical order. You know, from 1-10. Too many checks with numbers going up will get your check denied. But I plan on doing it the other way around now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I am talking about writing checks starting at the back of the book and working my way forward. Instead of starting at one I will begin at ten and throw the system off.”

“You got that from your conversation with that guy? Bitch, your ass is scary.”

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