Baron Hanson sat in the spacious Bank of America lobby downtown last week talking to the bank manager and a police officer when the woman quietly approached the counter behind him.
Hanson, principle and lead consultant for RedBaron Consulting, had called police April 7 immediately after he discovered someone stole a checkbook out of his Majestic Square office and already had cashed two of the checks.
He was answering the officer's questions the next day when, unbeknownst to him, the bank teller behind him noticed something odd about the woman trying to cash one of his company's checks for $360.
The teller, a 40-year bank veteran, checked the signature on the check against Hanson's signature card online. The signature didn't match.
The teller snatched up the check and the ID and the woman casually turned and headed down the long hallway toward the door.
The teller yelled to the bank manager and the officer standing next to Hanson. The manager, the officer, the teller and Hanson all followed her out the door. Hanson said he watched as the woman walked down the street as if nothing had happened. She was quickly confronted by the officer jogging behind her, Hanson said.
"It happened so quickly. She was right there in the bank," Hanson said Tuesday. "We were all just so completely surprised."
Hanson suspected from the beginning he was the victim of a fraudulent check ring, a suspicion confirmed when he later watched footage from a security camera inside his office and saw a man digging through his desk for a couple of minutes.
Authorities say check fraud rings are common: the same teller at Bank of America caught someone else presenting a forged check in an unrelated case later that day.
Charleston police Sgt. Mike Holmes, a detective with the white-collar crime unit, said thieves bank on the fact that most stolen checks won't be discovered until three to five days later, if not longer. By then, security tapes can be wiped out and memories can fade. Holmes said some thieves will steal checks from the bottom of a checkbook so the theft is not immediately detected.
Holmes and Hanson, whose firm specializes in helping companies with branding, strategy and turnaround management, said it's important to check your bank account online frequently and to keep an eye on your checkbooks.
Hanson said his company was prepared with the right technology in place when thieves targeted them. That, and a little luck, helped lead to a quick arrest.
"The secret to the whole thing is we had online banking, we had security cameras and everyone knew what to do," he said.
Hanson said he couldn't think of a more unlikely scene of a crime than the Majestic Square office building, which he called "one of the most secure, technologically advanced, locked-down buildings in Charleston."
Yet somehow the man walked into the downtown building at 10:54 a.m., slipped through the unlocked door and went through his desk -- bypassing a $250 pen and an iPod -- until he found the checkbook.
"Only the checks were missing so to some extent they knew exactly what they were after," Hanson said.
Hanson said the thieves wrote a total of four checks for $1,440 before the suspect was caught trying to cash a fifth check.
Police charged Fatiha Dickerson, 33, of Charleston with two counts of forgery. No one else has been charged.
"I see it as a successful case," Hanson said. "Everyone did fantastic."
Reach Andy Paras at 937-5589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.