7 On Your Side helps Holy Ghost church haunted by check fraud in East Harlem

Nina Pineda Image
Tuesday, May 14, 2024 3:08PM
7 On Your Side helps church after it falls victim to check fraud
Nina Pineda joins the Mornings @ 10 team to talk about how you can keep your checking account safe from fraud.

EAST HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- A faithful flock has been coming to the tiny church on 106th Street since 1944.

But recently the reverend's been praying for more than the redemption of souls.

Pastor Jose Rivera of Holy Ghost Christian Church needs to resurrect more than $16,000 someone methodically and repeatedly stole from his congregation's collection basket with check fraud.

The humble, but mighty donations help keep the tiny, East Harlem church's doors open and are used strictly to pay the bills.

That is until a check for $2,887 dropped in the mail outside the post office to their insurance company wound up in the hands of a scammer.

"I think they stole it from the mail," said David Diaz, the church treasurer. "That day I put it in the mailbox because it was Sunday."

"We told them, don't cash that check, and don't cash any other checks that come to personal people," Diaz said.

"Did they stop this one," 7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda asked.

"No, they didn't," Diaz said.

The church treasurer was incensed to learn the check was washed and rewritten to a woman. Even after it was flagged for fraud, three other checks were cashed.

One for Spectrum for $674 was changed to $5,000.

A check to Con Ed was changed to a different name and cashed for $6,598.

In all, the church was out $15,985.76.

Despite providing the bank with proof of the original checks as requested in the investigation, the fraud claim was denied.

"The rejection letter's claiming they cannot prove there was fraud, saying we did not provide original years," Diaz said.

"Which you have in your hand," Pineda said.

"And they've had for 7 months," Rivera said.

As soon as 7 On Your Side contacted Ponce, the bank reimbursed Holy Ghost every cent of the stolen checks.

"The other bank should have realized the person opening the account committed fraud," said Carlos Naudon, President and Ceo, Ponce Bank.

Naudon said check tampering is the largest source of fraud and small regional banks like Ponce, founded in the south Bronx with just 13 branches around the city, struggle with it daily.

"So you think these big banks should be held accountable?" Pineda asked.

"Yes," he said.

"What should customers do to prevent this from happening?" Pineda said.

"They should put a hold on the account," Naudon said.

After 7 months of being haunted by this nightmare, Holy Ghost was whole.

"The very next day, solved your problem instantly," Diaz said.

"I thank you, Channel 7," Rivera said. "We thank the Lord first and having you be here, praise the Lord."

The bank CEO says you should:

- Monitor accounts carefully

- If you notice something suspicious, put a hold on checks

- Change your account

- Go "checkless" and pay your bills electronically

- Use a gel pen

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