Husband and wife lose $127,000 in retirement benefits to fraud, seek damages from Bethpage Federal Credit Union


A Locust Valley couple are suing the Bethpage Federal Credit Union for refusing to restore funds to their accounts after fraudsters took $127,000 of their retirement savings. there is

Nicholas J. Ventreska and Michele R. Ventreska, both 70, filed a lawsuit against the credit union in Nassau County Supreme Court on May 9. They allege that when Bethpage held money market retirement savings accounts since 2019, they were unable to identify “clearly fake” checks, resulting in the theft of most of the funds in the accounts. are doing.

one The complaint alleges that the check had a signature that appeared to have misspelled Michele Ventresca’s name, and that the $30,000 check had no signature at all. Additionally, the couple never ordered a check for their account, the lawsuit states.

Bethpage officials said the checks were cashed at four other “major financial institutions,” but declined to name them. possibly electronically. Bethpage officials also said the couple did not notify the credit union until months after the money was stolen, beyond the 60-day deadline for Bethpage members to report fraudulent activity. .

What you need to know

  • Scammers used fake checks He was asked to withdraw $127,000 from the Locust Valley couple’s retirement accounts, according to a lawsuit filed against the Bethpage Federal Credit Union.
  • What their suits are looking for Demands recovery of funds and $100,000 in damages.
  • Bethpage FCU says The couple delayed the deadline to report the fraud by several months.

Bethpage officials said the checks were not deposited with Bethpage and the credit union could not verify the checks until the fraud was reported.

Ian Mitchell, a certified fraud examiner and partner at Mission Omega, a Chattanooga, Tenn., fraud services firm, said the 60-day reporting period is standard in the banking industry.

4 checks cashed

According to the Ventrekas family complaint, an unidentified fraudster submitted four counterfeit checks between March and April 2022. The first two were submitted on March 4 and each totaled $30,000. Between then and April 1, two more received cash, withdrawing another $67,000 from the couple’s accounts.

Before the theft, the Bentreskas had $145,355 in their accounts, according to court documents.

The couple uncovered the fraud, reported it to Bethpage, issued a fraud ticket online to the credit union, and met with the branch manager of the Glen Cove branch “around July 26, 2022,” according to court documents.

The complaint alleges that after briefly examining an image of the check, the couple were told by their manager that the check was a counterfeit and that Bethpage would “do the right thing.”

The manager disputes that explanation, according to Bethpage officials.

According to the complaint, “less than 24 hours” the couple received a letter from Bethpage saying that the credit union had closed its investigation into the matter and “had no intention of recovering the Bentreskas’ losses.” .

“The Bentreskas are currently in turmoil as they don’t know how they will be able to pay for their retirement, rather than enjoying their retirement in peace,” said lawyers John Bridy and Michael E. Catapano for the couple. said in the lawsuit.

A lawyer for the Ventrekas declined to comment on whether the couple were dating. He was planning to file a lawsuit against the financial institution that cashed the check.

report filed with the police

The Ventrekas filed a complaint with the Nassau County Police Department about the fraud at the end of July last year. Lieutenant Detective Richard LeBlanc said Friday that the case remains open and there are no new developments.

Bethpage officials said the couple were sent monthly account statements and were covered by a membership agreement for a 60-day reporting period.

“It’s unfortunate that Mr. and Mrs. Ventresca were victims of fraud. They failed to inform us of the fraud for months,” Linda Armin, chief strategy and marketing officer at Bethpage, said in a statement. I’m sorry too,” he said.

“We follow banking industry best practices in fraud prevention and monitoring,” Armin said. “Like all financial institutions, we objectively review allegations of fraud in accordance with regulatory requirements, applicable law, and the terms of our Consumer Member Account Agreement.”

“When fraud does occur, the timely identification of fraud by affected members is critical to efforts to recover lost funds,” Armin said.

Bridy and Catapano said in their legal documents that the check contained other “unmistakable signs of fraud.”

In addition to missing or misspelled signatures, Another check did not appear to include the city, state, or zip code in the payer’s address, according to the complaint.

some funds recovered

Despite the delayed notification of the fraud case, Bethpage officials said they recovered approximately $5,400 in funds and are seeking reimbursement from the financial institution that cashed the unsigned check.

Lawyers for the Ventrekas said they were in “mental distress and extreme anxiety” due to fraud, theft and the resulting dealings with the credit union, according to court documents.

The couple are seeking the return of $127,000 in savings, interest, legal fees and other costs, and $100,000 in additional damages.

Mr. and Mrs. Bentreska also joined the list of fake check victims.

“While the introduction of digital payments has reduced the use of checks, the increase in check fraud incidents over the past year continues to be a concern for financial institutions,” Mission Omega’s Mitchell said in a statement.

Mitchell said agreements between financial institutions and consumers typically place time limits on reporting fraud. “Typically, customers are told to report an account discrepancy within two billing cycles, which is usually about 60 days,” he said, adding, “Account holders can It is expected that ‘normal and customary precautions’ must be exercised.” at a financial institution. ”

But Mitchell added that agencies have a responsibility to try to catch fraud early.

“Banks and credit unions are expected to put safeguards in place to protect consumers using all payment methods,” Mitchell said. “Regarding checks in particular, many fraud departments use software that looks for check anomalies and flags them for manual review, among other fraud detection methods.”

When dealing with counterfeit checks, Mitchell said, the financial institution that cashed the check in the first place is often held accountable. “This is because the bank that presented the check is generally in the best position to verify the authenticity of the check and the identity of the person presenting the check.”

protect yourself from fraud

Scammers can attack anyone, but they often target seniors and retirees, said Long Island AARP deputy state director Bernard Macias. Thieves “know that they have money, that they are the source of wealth, and they want it.”

AARP suggests that consumers:

  • Regularly check your bank and credit card accounts for unusual activity

  • Shred financial documents before disposal

  • Report fraudulent activity to your financial institution, local law enforcement, or the Federal Trade Commission immediately.

  • If you believe that fraudsters are accessing your account, freeze the lines of credit of the three credit bureaus.

  • Set up credit card and bank account fraud alerts for financial institutions and monitoring agencies

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