I am writing this post to fulfill a promise I made to Kes awhile ago, but I think it will be interesting to a few. Sometime back in the early 1980’s I was sitting in my office chatting with an employee when I got a Code 10 call. A code 10 call, for those not familiar with banking lingo, is a suspicious credit card at the point of sale. The call was coming from a store in Louisiana called Gottschalk Maison. I took that call and as a result of the decision I made then, also became tied to one of the strangest criminals I have ever met named Mitchell Schnitkoff.
The person on the other end of the line told me she had a gentleman trying to use a store card for a person who was “deceased” in their computers and when she told him she could not accept it, he pulled out one of our MasterCards. I did a quick search on the card and did not find anything too unusual but because he had tried to use a “deceased” man’s card, I told her to decline the purchase. I had just committed the ultimate sin against Mitchell Schnitkoff, never, ever, stop him from getting what he wants.
After I got off the phone, I had some statements pulled and noticed some really strange purchases and credits. The credits on his account were not in line with any of his purchases. Say, Target, a charge for $24.00, then a credit for $240.00. It went on and on like that for months. I tried calling merchant loss prevention areas to give them a chance to dispute the charges but could not get anyone to respond. In the end, I had to issue a check to Mitchell for the credit balance on his account. Mitchell started calling me that day and every 10 days or so to get his credit. He railed at me for treating him so shabbily at Gottschalks every time he talked to me, never once admitting it was his own fault. Even after we closed his account, he continued to stalk me.
One day, about 6 months after I had received that original call, I got a call from a Detective Burns of a small police department in Minnesota wanting to talk about a Mitchell Schnitkoff with 19 AKA’s. It seems he was busted at a small drugstore in some small town in Minnesota for trying to steal sales drafts from behind the counter. In the course of the investigation Det Burns learned that Schnitkoff was a prolific shoplifter who stole items then took them back for credit on a MasterCard or Visa. It seems that he had learned if you go back for cash, the stores would question it, but not so with a credit card. I got all of his aliases from the Detective and checked our data base. We had 3 more cards that I immediately blocked. Well Schnitkoff must have been out on bail because before my letter could get to him, he called me. Somehow he thought I had turned him in to the detective and that was how he got caught. Right, he was in Louisiana on my case but I called the police in Minnesota. I went round and round with this guy but refused to give him the credits on those cards until he could prove he had purchase receipts to correspond with the dollar amounts credited, which he never did.
Mitchell Schnitkoff ended up in Leavenworth, or that is what he wanted me to believe when he called me from jail, and he told me he was in prison with murderers and thieves that were teaching him the ropes. He told me that when he got out of jail he was going to rip our bank off so badly that we would not know what hit us. Mitchell called me from time to time to remind me what a “meany” I was, in fact it got so normal for him to call that the people answering the phone knew him. They would tell me, “Mitchell is on the phone again and he will only talk to you.” I think he was using his weekly phone time to call and harass me, but it was amusing at that point.
Then there was Darla from Texas. Darla lived with her husband and his father. One day a credit card came in the mail addressed to “the father” with no Jr. or Sr. Well Darla thought she had just hit the jackpot. Her husband was issued a credit card even though she knew they did not make enough money to qualify. My investigator on the case came to me and she was puzzled. The purchases were coming from wig shops, men’s stores, plus size stores and she had called the merchants. They all decscribed a large black woman and her cousin in the store shopping. The lady was shopping for nurse uniforms and the guy was buying suits. The couple told the merchants she was a nurses aid and he was learning to be an undertaker. Criminals using stolen cards did not usually tell intimate details of their lives to shopkeepers. We called the home and got Sr on the phone. We described what was going on and he said, “That is my daughter-in-law and her cousin”. he swore that she had just made a mistake but he did not want to pay for it. Initially we were going to prosecute, however after talking with Darla on the phone, I was convinced she really thought it was her husband’s card. I agreed to a “pay agreement” with her and no more using the card. Darla called me at least once a month for a few years to tell, “Miss Susan“, whether or not she could pay that month. Was Darla a criminal? Perhaps she was and she bamboozled me, but I wanted to believe she made an honest mistake and the girl paid it off eventually.
Then there was Homer Brown. Possibly the most troubling case I ever investigated. The case came from our collections department who had been told the card was stolen. I caught the case and in the course of that investigation I traveled into some deep dark places that still haunt me today. Homer Brown was married to Tammy. Tammy was abused severely by Homer Brown and ran from him. Her journey took her to several hiding places in Texas and she finally landed in a battered woman’s shelter in Houston. The problem? Homer found out where she was and told people he was going to hunt her down and kill her. As Homer had been suspected of burning down his parents AND his inlaws homes, Tammy had reason to feel he was telling the truth so she moved on to England. Somehow Homer found out where she had gone (to stay with and aunt) so he decided to track her down in England. Lucky for Tammy, he was not very good at tracking down people he did not know personally(the aunt), especially in a strange country. He made attempts, as I could see from the charges on his card, to travel the countryside but was not successful. Thanks to a friendly sheriff in Beaumont Texas I was faxed a photo of Homer. I faxed that photo to Interpol in London and they went to Barclays bank to talk to a teller who had negotiated a cash advance for him. Bingo! She picked him out of a lineup. Interpol signed an affadavit and sent it to me. I promptly called Homer Brown and told him he was a liar and I was going to transfer the balance back to him. It was wierd, the guy who tore up this country and England looking to kill his wife acted like a spoiled baby when he learned he would be stuck with the charges. Knowing what I know about domestic violence, I will always wonder if Tammy ever was talked into giving him a second chance. I sure hope not but knowing domestic violence cases and how they turn out sometimes, I still wonder to this day if she is safe.
We had many strange cases while I worked in Risk Management, both on the credit and merchant side. Investigations can be fun and extremely interesting but you are always the cop and dealing with people who have no conscience. After 12 years of Risk Management, I got out and went to probably the most unlikely followup position, Account Management. I went from chasing down the bad guys to managing the day to day processing and banking issues for the banks’ VIP customers. That was fun as well though, I travelled all over the country, learned how to navigate in strange cities and met alot of really fine people and saw some great cities and states. I was glad to get out for awhile but if someone offered me a job in Investigations today, I would probably go back for another few years. It is in my blood, I am the crusader for doing the right thing, living by the rules. I am also the analyst always thinking logically how to approach an issue, I want to know the answers and I love to solve a good puzzle. My years in investigations fed those needs and I learned a great deal. It gave me the tools to ferret out people and what their real intentions are and I understand the judicial system, police department operations and the world of criminals better as a result of my experiences. The experiences have made me a better citizen, wife and mother as well. I saw what happens to families whose members were involved in criminal activities, and knew I never wanted to go there.