Happy ending for Maryland record store owner whose rent check was stolen, cashed for $9K

The owner of Joe’s Record Paradise says that the store’s rent check has been stolen from the mail and cashed for $9,000. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Update, 6 p.m. Thursday: Johnson Lee said Thursday his bank has credited his account for $9,000.

“I just got the call. I just wanted to thank the fraud department, and also Neal Augenstein and the WTOP crew, for being there for us,” Lee said.

Kyle Tarrance, Truist’s public affairs director, provided the following comment on the resolution: “Protecting our clients and their accounts continues to be a top priority and we take any potential fraud concerns seriously. While we can’t discuss any specifics due to privacy, we appreciate you flagging this concern from your listener.”

Original story follows.

Johnson Lee has sold plenty of copies of the Dead Kennedys album containing the song “Stealing People’s Mail” — now the owner of Joe’s Record Paradise in Silver Spring, Maryland, said that’s what has happened to him.

“I was speaking to my landlords today, and they mentioned they did not get last month’s rent,” Lee told WTOP. “I went to the bank and got some printouts and noticed a $9,000 check, which doesn’t seem like something we would do.”

Lee rushed back to his shop, matched up check numbers, and realized the rent check he wrote and dropped in the mail had been stolen, doctored and deposited, and he was out $9,000.

”I’d written the check and put it into the mailbox on Georgia Avenue,” Lee said. “It’s pretty brazen of them to steal from that box — it’s extremely visible to traffic all day.”

Lee said the thieves didn’t just take his check and cash it — they helped themselves to a lot more.

”Our rent is $3,000. What they did was they crossed out the name, the line that spells out the number and the number itself, and changed it to $9,000. They did a digital deposit, so they didn’t have to go into the bank itself.”

Lee has contacted his bank, which has opened a fraud inquiry. Montgomery County police came by to take a report Wednesday afternoon.

“It basically wiped us out,” Lee said. “Luckily, our landlords have agreed to sort of give me a break and let me figure this out.”

When Lee’s landlord said that he had not yet received last month’s rent yet, Lee thought about the recent reports of mail thefts in Montgomery County. So, he decided to look into it.

The hassle and financial implications are clear: “Of course, nobody likes going through this, having to deal with paperwork, and (taking) time for police to come do a report.”

“It seems pretty obviously to be fraud, and I would hope a multinational company like Truist would pull through and have their fraud department do what they do,” Lee said.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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