When I was a little kid, my parents divorced. My dad moved just a few blocks away and I lived primarily with my mom. My mom drove an Acura at the time. My mom, my brother, and I were on our way to go somewhere (I don’t remember where). We got rear-ended by a doctor. I was in the front passenger seat and my brother was in back. We came out of the accident fine, except for a little whiplash. My mom’s car was declared totaled by insurance and I was given $300 as a settlement. My mom was given the money in my behalf since I was just a little kid.

A few years passed and my dad remarried and moved to Utah to go back to school. A year later, I moved to Utah to join him. My mom remarried and moved to Seattle. I had completely forgotten about the insurance settlement money, but my mom hadn’t. She deposited the money in a new account at a financial institution with her husband in Seattle and let it slowly gain interest for a few years. When I was around 16-18, I remembered about the settlement and asked for the money back. My mom gave me $295 of the $300. She left the $5 in the account to leave the account open. I remember being a bit confused about that, but I just shrugged my shoulders and life went on.

Years and years passed. I kept throwing away the account statements, knowing the account only had $5 in it. I never even bothered to open the envelope. I figured that it would take at least an hour or two of work to close the Seattle-based account from Utah. The work involved wasn’t worth $5. In 2010, I got married and just a few months ago, my wife and I moved from Utah to Maryland. I start getting sick of throwing away these account statements.

Imagine my shock when I open the last statement I received before moving and seeing the account had $5,000 in it. The statement was already a month or two old. I thought I had remembered right, that the account was solely for me and only had $300 at most in it, $295 of which was given to me years ago. But I thought maybe I had been wrong. I called the financial institution and they would not give me any information about the account, other than the fact that I was the primary on the account and there were two secondaries. I assumed the secondaries were my mom and her (now ex) husband. The tellers would not tell me the account history, but I did confirm my assumption about who was on the account.

Since the tellers would not tell me the history of the account, I went through the long, drawn-out process of closing the account, assuming I was wrong about the insurance settlement money. Convincing them to allow me to close the account took a bit of effort. It took around two weeks of faxing forms, IDs, and other pieces of information and instructions to close the account. During the two weeks and after the account was fully closed and a check was put in the mail, I received another account statement, which now showed a balance of $10,000. Apparently someone was actively using the account. Either the account was compromised or, more likely, my ex-step-father started using it. Knowing the money wasn’t mine, I wanted to either give it back to the depositor or give it to the feds in case of fraud. I immediately called the institution and told them the story at length and they agreed to go through the account history.

In February of this year, a deposit of $5,000 was made. A second deposit of the same amount was made in August. I wanted to confirm that my ex-step-father was the one who made the deposits, but I knew the teller wouldn’t tell me anything about my ex-step-father or any transactions he made, even if the transactions involved my account. I told the teller that I had no way of contacting my ex-step-father since I don’t know his phone number, email address, or physical address. I convinced the branch manager to call the owner of the account from which the deposit was made. The branch manager accidentally said something to the effect “Sure, I’ll give [name] a call. We normally don’t do that, but seeing as you can’t do that yourself, I’ll do it for you. It’ll be just a one-time favor.” That confirmed without a doubt that my ex-step-father was the one who did the deposit.

My ex-step-father was on vacation in Hawaii at the time the call was made. He wasn’t too happy to hear that I had accidentally taken $10,000 from him. I wasn’t too happy that the $10,000 wasn’t mine, but I wanted to be responsible and get the money back to him. The bank had already closed the account and the check was already in the mail. He was understanding and though he wasn’t happy about the situation, was glad to hear that I took initiative and was honest about the ordeal.

The institution told me it would take five to seven business days for the check to arrive. I waited seven days and on the eight called them. If the check was lost in the mail or stolen (they didn’t even send it certified), I would have to wait ninety days and fax in a new form for a lost, stolen, or damaged check. My ex-step-father wasn’t happy about that at all and I was worried he was going to involve lawyers. A few weeks pass by without word from him or the institution. Our neighbor knocks on our door and gives us an envelope that was delivered to her, but addressed to us. Inside the envelope was the $10,000 check!

Just yesterday, the transfer was made to my ex-step-father’s account from my account. The deal is done and I’m glad not to have to worry about it anymore. I learned a few lessons from this tale. First, always verify information prior to performing an action. I could have called my mom and asked her if she remembered and could confirm the amounts for the insurance settlements. Had I done that, I would’ve known simply to contact my ex-step-father and have him close the account and send me a check for a measly $5. Second, I made a few correct assumptions about owners and contributors to the account. Though tellers aren’t supposed to confirm details of third parties, I could confirm assumptions by telling them the information I knew, and asking “right?” at the end. They’d usually just follow along and say yes or no. I even convinced the branch manager to call my ex-step-father. Third, always use certified mail for anything sensitive. Had the institution used certified mail, the check would’ve been deposited and transferred back to my ex-step-father much sooner. Fourth, social engineering a financial institution takes a lot of work. When all is said and done, I spent around forty to fifty hours over the phone with the institution.