Bank loses thousands of checks

August 9, 2005

Brad Hawkins

A truck carrying thousands of Federal Reserve Bank checks that were headed to Houston for sorting somehow lost some of its precious cargo. Now the Federal Reserve said they don't know just how many checks with people's personal information are missing.

The checks are already paid and canceled, but they have a combination of information that identity theft thieves could capitalize on, which include social security numbers, full names, addresses and signatures.

The contractor driving the truckload apparently pulled away with the back door to his truck wide open.

Rudy Colorado expected to dodge rain showers during his Sunday bike ride through downtown Dallas. While he managed not to get wet, he didn't escape getting flooded by pieces of paper falling from the sky.

"I look up and I see checks floating off the bridge and landing everywhere," Colorado said. "So I just started picking them up."

It took him three hours to gather some of that cargo the Federal Reserve truck lost under the Central Expressway near Deep Ellum. He picked up about 1,000 canceled checks written against personal and business accounts all over Texas.

"It's a $44,000 check," he said of one check. "Here's another $1,090 check."

He wasn't the only one who was surprised by the lost checks.

"It was open," said Juan Villegas of the truck that drove by him. "One of those sliding doors..."

Villegas said he saw the truck driving away from the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas just before dawn. He then said he made a discovery on Woodall Rodgers Freeway similar to Colorado's.

"I saw a box," he said. "[I] pulled over - picked it up - put it in the back of the truck."

Inside the box were hundreds of endorsed Social Security checks. There was enough information on the checks he said for a thief to make someone's life hard.

"Someone who steals someone's identity can totally destroy their credibility," said Mario Lopez.

The government clears millions of checks each week in Dallas for banks across Texas, half of New Mexico and Louisiana. All Texas checks must come through Dallas where they are paid and sorted at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Despite attempts to call during the weekend, there was no answer at the Federal Reserve number designated to notify if the lost items were found.

However, after News 8 alerted the reserve bank, they started an internal investigation and said they did not yet know how many checks may be lost.

"We do appreciate the good Samaritan who actually stopped and helped pick up the checks," said Diane Holloway, with the Federal Reserve Bank.

She also said despite this incident, she believes the system is usually safe.

"Accidents can happen," she said. "Human error can occur. But it is a very safe system and one that we take very seriously."

However, Colorado is still disturbed by what fell from the sky during his bike ride.

"That's a thousand bank accounts that someone can get access to," he said. "All you gotta do online is [use] those few numbers right there and you can charge stuff."

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