Stolen check leads to agony

Dr. Gary Green

Stolen check leads to agony
April 27
08:00 2017



Sharon Harrison says she and her son are “…continuing to be victimized by a system that does not protect a parent or student from a school … that does not accept responsibility for [its] negligent actions …”

The Winston-Salem mother is being held responsible for a federal student loan refund check she never received for her son that was cashed at an area Wells Fargo bank by someone posing as her.

Did  Harrison report the alleged crime? Yes, to every authority she could think of, seeking not only to solve the problem, but have the loan replaced. Problem is, after dealing with two banks, the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Department of Education, Forsyth Technical Community College (FT, and the Winston-Salem Police Department since September 2016, she’s no closer to resolution now than she was on Day One.

The situation has put an undue, and unfair financial strain on her family, Harrison says. All because an important check was sent to the wrong address, and now, no one wants to take responsibility for the mishap, but do want to hold her responsible for paying back a loan she never got.

Even Dr. Gary Green, the president of Forsyth Tech – the school that allegedly caused the mishap – has not met with her as recently as last Tuesday, and his staff has done little, she says, to bring about a timely resolution.

“I am a reasonable person, however, eight months of this is unacceptable and unreasonable,” Harrison wrote in an April 20th email to a staffer of state Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth), one of many public officials she contacted for help. “And again I am at the mercy of the school and the bank while I am incurring interest on funds I do not have. I feel that the school should get a commitment from the bank of the release date of my funds. “

Unless the situation radically changes for the best in short order, Harrison may have to ultimately go to court, spending more money to clear up a bad situation not of her making.

And no, she hasn’t begun making payments on the missing money yet, though she’s been advised to, which ultimately could threaten her personal credit.

It all started in July 2016. Sharon Harrison’s son, Christian, 23, is in his first year studying to be a registered nurse at Forsyth Technical Community College

She has an older son there, too.

Alumna of school

In July 2016,  Harrison, an alumna of the school, applied for a Direct PLUS (Parent’s Loan for Undergraduate Students) Loan, a federal government-backed lending program to help parents pay the tuition and fees of dependent college-aged children, based on the parents’ credit history.

The loans typically have a fixed interest rate, which can vary depending on from where the loan is obtained. That interest does accrue from the day that loan is disbursed to the family, until it’s all paid back. The interest rate for Harrison’s PLUS loan was approximately 4.6 percent because she was getting it through Forsyth Tech.

And according to the Federal Student Aid page of the U.S. Dept. of Education website, “The U.S. Department of Education (which is the lender) makes Direct PLUS Loans to eligible borrowers through schools participating in the  Direct Loan Program.”

However, the website also makes it clear that “Your college or career school – not the U.S. Department of Education –will distribute your financial aid.”

So procedurally, FT received Sharon Harrison’s PLUS Loan for her son from the US Dept. of Education, which, in turn, disbursed it by “…credit-ing it to [her] child’s school account to pay tuition, fees, …other authorized charges.”

And if there was money left over, according to the website, “…the school [would] pay it to [the parent], usually by check. In some cases, with [parental] permission, the school may disburse the leftover money to [the] child.”

How Process Works

“That is exactly how the process works and has worked at other institutions.,” Harrison co-firmed to The Chronicle, adding that that loan refund would be used for all associated costs to her son’s school attendance. “Please note that this is not the first Parent Plus Loan which I have received on behalf of my children.  The process with payment has been very clear and at the other institution of higher learning, refunds were mailed to my home.”

But for some reason, that scenario didn’t play out as expected this time, Harrison says.

With two sons attending classes at FT,  Harrison took out PLUS loans last year for both of them. Normally the refund after disbursement would be mailed in a check to her home, but on July 27th, Harrison says, she was advised that Christian’s refund would be forwarded to her electronically direct deposit via BankMobile, which is an option that Forsyth Tech provides.

Expecting refunds

By Sept. 27, her older son received his refund, but Christian hadn’t. His mother was told to expect it on Sept. 30th, but again, nothing. Harrison found herself going back and forth between FT accounting and BankMobile until Oct. 6, when a check for $156.59 arrived in the mail, addressed to Christian.

Harrison provided The Chronicle with a photo of both the properly addressed and postmarked envelope to her son, and the check stub attached for that amount.

Problem was that amount was substantially lower than what Harrison was told to expect. After contacting the Forsyth Tech accounting office again,  Harrison says she was told to expect another check for the outstanding balance of $4,347.59, but days later, that second check never arrived, even though she was assured that it was mailed.

On Oct. 17th, Harrison says she was told by FT accounting that the second check, which had been issued by BB&T Bank, had been cashed on Oct. 12th by someone who signed her name, even though no proper identification was used.

Four days later, the story became worse. Forsyth Tech told Harrison that the second check, for some reason, was sent to a previous address she formally resided at when she was an FT student in 2010. Clearly an error had been made on the part of FT, Harrison says, because not only had she not used that address on the applications  for the Direct plUS loan, but christian’s initial $156.59 refund check came to the proper, and current address.

A matter of addresses

Harrison was told the older address was what the school had on file. But Harrison says her address required on the loan application for funds to be sent to, is what the school was supposed to use.

Forsyth Tech promised to contact the fraud Department at BB&T, but ended up only leaving a message after several tries. On October 25, Harrison filed a complaint with the Winston-Salem Police Dept. By that time, BB&T informed Harrison that her loan refund check had actually been fraudulently cashed at a Wells Fargo bank branch.

According to an attorney she consulted with, that person, who she suspected now lived at her previous address, could be charged with identity theft, check forgery and felony larceny.

However, if  Harrison thought her problems were now closer to resolution, she was sadly mistaken.

She did what many would consider to be reasonable, given what had happened – she filed separate complaints with the US Dept. of Education, the PLUS Loan Division and the NC Community College System; a consumer complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office, and with Student Aid Compliance in addition to the local police report.

Bounced around

And of course, Harrison was on the phone constantly with officials at FT, being bounced from one to another week after week, without any resolution.

On Jan. 19, Wells Fargo, responding to Harrison’s demand that the bank should immediately replace the funds stolen in her name, wrote back, saying in part, “…Wells Fargo’s policy regarding customer privacy and security precludes us from releasing customer account information to third parties without a customer’s consent or a court order. Therefore, we are unable to provide a response to the concerns in your complaint. We respectfully refer you to the originating payer, Forsyth Technical Community College, for further assistance with researching this matter.”

Almost a month later, Harrison was told by BB&T that her stolen check is “out for collections” to Wells Fargo, which had 90 days to respond.

On Feb. 22, the senior vice president of BB&T’s Complaint Resolution Department responded to her by letter, saying, “ Harrison, while we sympathize with your situation, we are not able to respond to your issue. Due to privacy laws, we are not able to provide any information on an account in which you have no affiliation. Our advice to you is to contact the maker of the check for further information,“ namely Forsyth Tech.

Seeking help

Since February, Harrison has contacted her congressional and state representatives, attorneys, other media (including national radio host Tom Joyner, who wrote her back saying, “Hey  Sharon….You need a lawyer”), and filed a complaint with the Federal reserve….anyone she hoped could help her.

On March 9, attorney Dudley Witt, with the Winston-Salem law firm of Crumpler, Freedman, Parker and Witt, sent a certified letter to Dr. Gary Green, president of Forsyth Tech, advising Green that Sharon Harrison was his client.

“It seems through your negligence your institution mailed a refund check in the amount of [$4,347.59] to the wrong address,  Witt wrote. “At the present time my client’s son is obligated for the repayment of $5,730.00, despite the fact that he only received the benefit of about $1,400.00 of those funds.”

Attorney Witt closed with, “ Please advise when we may expect the appropriate refund that employees in your office negligently sent to the wrong address.”

In an April 25 phone interview with The Chronicle this week, Green admitted that neither he nor the school’s legal counsel had responded to the attorney letter, or even spoken to Harrison … even just to apologize for the ordeal she’s been through.

Even though he said that he appreciated the hardship that  Harrison has gone through, the Forsyth Tech president kept saying that because the situation was primarily “a criminal matter,” even though he acknowledged that his school sent the loan refund check to the wrong address, Green countered that he didn’t see that as “negligent,” without which there never would have been a criminal investigation.

Green added that he felt that his staff had helped Harrison the best that they could.

Harrison maintains that Forsyth Tech staff she dealt with were not proactive enough once they had determined what had happened with the erroneous mailing. Sometimes weeks would go by without hearing anything from them, she said.

On April 18, in an email to The Chronicle, Harrison wrote, “As of today….the funds given to me from the U.S. Department of Education to assist my son with his education have not been released to us.  My son has been without needed funds for approximately five months now because of (FT’s) error. “

Money problems mount

“My son is in a rigorous program and because of (FT’s) negligence; we are now suffering from a financial burden to cover the things that he needs. He now has to work part-time while in school, and I am currently working additional hours to help him.(FT) has not assumed responsibility for their mistake. No one is willing to tell me who was responsible for mailing the check to the incorrect address. Now that those in (FT’s) Business Services know that I have filed a police report (the detective called to obtain a copy of the forged check) and am moving up the chain of command within the school, they have taken measures to cover-up their negligence and lack of resolution.”

“ Harrison continued, “(FT) states they cannot issue out our funds because it is government money. I personally feel we should not have to wait any longer as they used an address on file instead of contacting me.

“They were negligent and careless with government funds. As a result of this negligence, the check got into the hands of criminals who stole from the government and my son,” she continued.

“I read that the mission of this school system is to minimize barriers to education and improve the lives of students. (FT) has done the exact opposite. I am hoping that you all are willing to assist me to correct this. Today I get an update from the school stating the BB&T finds Wells Fargo liable and Wells Fargo will have to replace the funds.  This could take another 3 months.  Why do my son and I have to still be victimized? ““I am in graduate school with three children in college and a spouse who is on disability,”  Harrison continued. “We, as a family, try to improve our way of living and encourage our children to do the right thing at all times, so what do you do when someone willfully steals from you and you have no recourse?  This is producing additional financial hardships on my family.”

The Chronicle has been researching Harrison’s story since she brought it to this newspaper late last week.

On Monday of this week, The Chronicle contacted Alan Proctor, chai-man of the Forsyth Tech Board of Trustees. Proctor is also listed as a senior vice president for Wells Fargo Bank.

Check will be cut

After advising him of Harrison’s dilemma, Proctor called her and promised to have the situation addressed by the following day, which he did. Proctor called  Harrison Tuesday, she told The Chronicle, telling her that Wells Fargo had cut a check to cover the stolen money, and would be sending it BB&T, in turn, would forward the money to Forsyth Tech, which would then send Harrison another check for $4,347.59, the amount of the original.

Sharon Harrison is now in a wait-and-see mode.

On Wednesday morning she received a call from Forsyth Tech, telling her it would take “two to three days” for the check to be credited to her account at the school. Then they will process a check, and call her to come to the school to get it personally.

Harrison stressed that she did not want it mailed.

But she was also told that Forsyth Tech wants her to call the student loan office and “get them to send her the amount of the interest accrued from the date of the loan until present…” and they will also issue a check to cover that as well.

The Chronicle will report on whether or not that happens next week.

About Author

Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors