It came in a piece of junk mail. It came on May 19th.
"We’ll teach Patrick Combs how to make $95,093.35 in just three weeks!" boasted a blue headline inside. Junk mail of the stupidest kind, I thought to myself, as I glanced at the next page. There it was -- a fake check -- on light blue paper, made out in my name, for the amount of $95,093.35, complete with electronic banking numbers along the bottom and an "authorized signature." It looked so real, except for the words "non-negotiable" printed clearly in the top right-hand corner.
I scooted Hobbit, my large, orange cat, off of the keyboard and to the right of my monitor. "Hobbit, somebody sent us money," I said, placing my elbows on to my desk as I stared at the check. I enjoyed seeing my name attached to so much money. It would easily wipe out the $40,000 of credit card debt I’d run up in the last two years launching myself as a professional speaker. I never thought I’d be in so much debt, let alone by the age of twenty-eight.
A letter, attached to the fake check by a perforated score, read:
Patrick Combs, I expected to hear from you by now. Take a close look at the check above. It's just a sample of the money you could be receiving.
We took in that amount in just three weeks. Other mailboxes have also made hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, your mailbox, at 326 Carl Street, could soon be stuffed full of checks in varying amounts and free merchandise. This is the same offer you’ve seen on TV! Patrick, I know what you must be thinking, "Is this for real?" Let me assure you, it is very real.
"Very real eh? And as seen on TV. Well, hopefully I can buy a bridge from this guy too," I said to myself shaking my head..
I knew it was a bogus come-on from some direct mail scammer, but I liked it none-the-less. It made me feel almost-rich, and thus it seemed too good for the trash. I figured that there had to be something fun I could do it. It was, at the very least, a good novelty item deserving a place on my wall, and possibly a frame. Positive visualization, I thought to myself, and a good conversation starter.
But then I thought of something even better...
That's funny... two different ways:
First of all, the scammer, a Mr. Mitch Klass, would get notice that someone actually tried to deposit his junk-check. That'd make him wonder.
Secondly, it could prompt quite a funny conversation with my bank. After getting the stupid-deposit, they'd have to call me, a good customer of 12 years who's never deposited anything larger than $5,000 and say, "Ah, Mr. Combs, we've got some disappointing news. The check you deposited yesterday, for $95,000..."
"Yes?" I'd ask.
They'd continue trying to let me down easy, "Mr. Combs, it wasn't real."
"Are you sure?" I'd say. "The letter it came with said it was very real, and that soon my mailbox would be stuffed with varying amounts and free merchandise."
"Sorry Mr. Combs. It's just a junk mail scam. The check you deposited says 'non-negotiable' on it, which means it's not worth the paper it's printed it on."
By then, it'd be hard holding back my laugh, but I'd squeeze in one more line, "Are you sure 'non-negotiable' doesn't mean that I can't negotiate for more money, like ninety-six or ninety seven thousand?"
They'd want to hang up on me, but I'd apologize for my stupidity. Then I'd get off the phone and gleam with that particular kind of joy that can only be generated by absurdity.
I was ready, with one important and final consideration: Would my bank appreciate the joke? I surmised they would. After all, how many times does a teller get to process such a large check, and a fake-one at that? I could see him or her coming across it and exclaiming, "Allllllrighty!" Then calling out to the branch manager, "Bob, you're gonna LOVE this!" All tellers then gathering around for a good laugh.
If depositing a junk-mail check for a ridiculous amount of money isn't bank humor, I don't know what is.
Plus, there's the fact that my bank, First Interstate, is friendly and personable. It's the primary reason they became my bank in the first place, and God-willing, will be my bank forever. I've had friends suggest I change banks for free checking, but I tell my friends I'll change banks when they find me another bank with something better than The $5 Perfect Service Guarantee. First Interstate started it a year ago. If my bank ever makes a mistake, all you do is point it out to them and they give you $5 cash, on the spot. That's not just honesty and generosity, but also good nature. I took it as a yet another sign that my bank would appreciate this joke, so I was good-to-go.
As usual, there was a line at the ATM machine, which was attached to the dirty brown exterior of First Interstate’s Haight Street branch. Several homeless people sat on the concrete asking for change. My pockets were empty.
I really hadn't thought the deposit through. It was the little things that tickled my fancy. First having to key in seven digits for my deposit amount. Then having to fill out a deposit slip and prepare my check. I almost endorsed the back, but then thought to myself, "What for?" Instead, I drew a smiley face where the signature should be and wrote, "Have a Nice Day!" Then, thinking the machine would probably just shred this deposit, I scrolled it into the mouth of the machine. But it did not shred it, or spit it back. It ate it up, like a cat licking cream. Quickly it was gone. To me, this was really, really funny. Laughing out loud, I turned to the person waiting behind me and declared, "The ATM just took Monolopy money! Now I'm fake-rich!"
Then, for the first time in as long as I could remember, I walked away from my bank laughing. For the briefest of seconds, as a skate boarded on the corner of Stanyon and Carl Street passed me by, I thought what I'd done might be a tad bit juvenile, but I got over it in a step. What I'd done passed the true test of good humor: it was perfectly harmless.
Saturday and Sunday passed without incident.
Monday, I expected to hear from my bank but didn't.
Tuesday, I didn't think once about the deposit.
Then, on Wednesday while running errands, I withdrew $40 from my automated bank machine. Out spit the two twenties and the little orange and sand-colored receipt. I stared at it. It looked like Ed McMahon had sent it. My bank balance was almost a hundred thousand dollars.
The bank had accepted the phony $95,093.35 deposit!
End of Part I