Bank plans to reimburse customer given fake bill

Representatives from the Modesto bank that appears to have given a longtime customer a counterfeit $100 bill, then refused to compensate him for it after his wife was nearly arrested for using the money, said they plan to make good on the couple's loss.

Sukh Ram Pal has been a customer of World Savings, which is now Wachovia Bank, since 1995, he said. Pal went to the bank on North McHenry Avenue on Monday and withdrew $600. A teller gave it to him in $100 bills. His wife, Sunita Pal, took the cash to Sears to pay a bill.

A Sears employee marked the bills with a currency pen and told her that one of the notes was no good, Sukh Pal said. His wife almost was arrested for using the phony money, she told him later.

"They were going to call the police on her," he said. "I don't know why they didn't."

She held onto the bill, and it wasn't confiscated.

The Pals went back to the bank.

"They said they could not do anything," he said. "I went to talk to one supervisor who said, 'You took the money from the bank and when you get out of the bank, we are not responsible.' "

Sukh Pal said he has been a groundskeeper at Spring Creek Golf and Country Club in Ripon for 35 years; his wife is a lab technician assistant.

"The thing is, my whole day's wages is $100," he said. "Losing money like that, it hit me so bad. I'm trying to pay my bills. I went to the bank to get the money and I get phony money from the bank. What are you supposed to do?"

Sukh Pal said he went to the Modesto Police Department, where he was told he could try to file a complaint against the bank with the U.S. Treasury Department.

Brian McGinley, senior vice president of loss management for Wachovia, said he planned to call Pal and get his money back to him if his story checks out. There's no hard-and-fast rule for dealing with counterfeit bills, he said, because the bank sees only a few thousand dollars in fake money each year.

"We're going to look at it on a case-by-case basis," McGinley said. "Hopefully, common sense will prevail. The benefit of the doubt is going to be given to a valued customer. ... If the appropriate management had looked at it, we would have reimbursed it."

Tellers are trained, with materials from the Secret Service, how to spot counterfeit money, he said. They're trained when they're hired, and they receive updates. Tellers typically take a look at currency to see whether it's real, he said, but sometimes long lines mean they don't have time.

People rarely try to pass fake money at the bank, because tellers deal with currency so often, McGinley said. Pal's counterfeit bill could have come from another branch, from the Federal Reserve or from another customer; Wachovia gets its cash from various places. In other areas of the country where the bank has more branches, Wachovia has its own "money centers" with automated counting ma- chines that detect fakes.

Banks are obligated to turn over counterfeit money to the Secret Service. The customer would get a receipt, and the bank sends the money along with a receipt. Sometimes, McGinley said, the Secret Service will find money that was ruled fake by a currency pen is real. In those cases, the bank is credited and the customer is credited as well.

Pal said Saturday that someone from the bank left a phone message at his home. He's relieved to hear the bank probably will give him back his money.

"When I talked to the supervisor, I was really frustrated," he said. "I've been a customer so long with them. But I'm not that kind of person to give a phony bill to the bank. And why would the bank not check it first, then give it to me?

"I'm concerned about other customers. I'd like to alert them, before you leave with a $100 bill from the bank, check it out first."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.