Liberty Title in Michigan was handling the sale of a residential property. Everything was in order so the buyer and seller signed their closing documents. The buyer was a celebrity chef with a big ego. At the signing, Branch Manager Mona Walter explained to the buyer that $148,000 was due by wire transfer and she provided him with her wire instructions.
The next day a deposit was posted to her incoming wire account. This was peculiar since they only accept wires into this account. Mona was unable to view the deposit so she contacted her Chief Information Officer, Tracy Brewster, for help.
Tracy reached out to their bank representative who confirmed the deposit was by check. The buyer had taken the check to the bank along with the wire instructions and instructed the bank to deposit the check into Liberty Title's account.
Tracy explained to the bank representative they do not accept payment by check for that amount and asked they back out the deposit. Mona called the buyer to let him know the deposit was not accepted and he needed to go back to the bank to pick up his check.
The buyer was not happy. He pushed her to accept his check even asking at one point, "Don't you know who I am?" Even the real estate agents pushed and urged her not to upset the celebrity.
Mona did not back down nor did she let the buyer bully her. She explained he must wire the funds in order for the transaction to close. He claimed he shredded the check and would initiate a wire.
The next day a deposit of $148,000 appeared in the wires only account. Tracy contacted the bank representative who confirmed the buyer went to a different bank branch and deposited the same check as he did the day before.
The bank reversed the deposit and turned the check over to their security team. The bank's security team contacted the issuing bank who confirmed the check was out of sequence and did not match the other checks drawn on that account. The bank provided a copy of the check to Liberty Title. Here is a portion of the check:
Clearly there are several red flags. First off, there is no such thing as Bank of America Illinois. That would be an oxymoron. "Pay to the Order of" is typically above the amount of the check. At the bottom of the check it says "Authorize Signature" instead of Authorized.
Mona called the phone number on the check which went directly into voicemail. The check was written from an account of the L.A. Dodgers organization, but the buyer had nothing to do with the Dodgers.
Mona also looked on the website for the L.A. Dodgers but did not find the name of the person whose voicemail she had reached on their staff or players lists. By all accounts this check was counterfeit. Tracy forwarded a copy of the check to a contact email she found on the L.A. Dodgers website.
Liberty Title did not have the earnest money. Tracey did not know if the real estate agent had the check or if it was real. Liberty Title resigned from the transaction by way of letter to all parties and to their surprise the buyer did not respond. A few days later someone from the L.A. Dodgers returned Tracy's call to verify the check was not theirs.
Throughout the transaction the purchaser was less than pleasant. Every time Mona explained the process to him he would turn things back on her. In the end he lied to her on multiple occasions and accused Liberty Title of a bad buying experience.
Did the buyer really think he could get away with it? How did he think this was going to end? Even if the file closed and Mona had disbursed against the uncollected funds it would have been only days before the check was returned. This was not a well thought out plan.
Liberty Title filed a police report in East Lansing, Michigan, and the Dodgers filed a police report with the Michigan Police Department. Some celebrities believe that all publicity is good publicity. Surely this celebrity chef will have to decide for himself.
MORAL OF THE STORY
This is an excellent reminder to trust your gut and pay attention to the red flags when they go up. Also, just like Mona, do not let people harass you into making a poor decision. If someone is harassing you it is probably another red flag! For standing her ground and protecting her company from a $148,000 loss Mona is being rewarded with $1,500 big ones and a letter from the Company!