UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. (KMOV) -- Police say a University City man worked an elaborate scheme to steal from his victims' bank accounts. Perhaps what's most surprising is that bank tellers handed over some $15,000 to the alleged identity thief.
A keen-eyed Creve Coeur detective finally brought this guy down after he allegedly stole from at least 12 people. She tells me what you need to watch for, because all the thief needed was someone's driver's license and someone else's checkbook to dupe bank tellers into letting him walk away with thousands of dollars in cash.
When Eric Johnson lost his driver's license it turned out to be the gateway into his bank account.
"I didn't think it could happen to me," Johnson said.
Police say Ernest Bams hit Eric's account for more than $3,500 by pretending to be Eric, but his bank teller spotted the fake.
"They were like 'you're not Eric,' and before she could think to grab my i.d., she just made sure to get the deposit slip back, and he took the i.d. and ran out of the bank," Johnson said.
Creve Coeur Detective Nicole Bible said Bams's whole charade started with one stolen checkbook. He'd use the checks to make deposits into victims' accounts.
"It looked less suspicious because he was depositing a check into the account," Det. Bible said. "He would take a lost or stolen check, find out where the person bank whose i.d. he had, then go by that bank, pass a check against their account and get money back."
Police say Bams hop-scotched throughout St. Louis County, using whatever he could find -- driver's licenses, social security numbers or checks with account numbers -- to hit 19 different bank branches.
"He would use people's social security numbers to call ahead to the bank to find out the account balance of those people whose i.d.s he had. He would have their driver's licenses and date of births," Det. Bible said. "He would take bits and pieces, add them all up together and he ended up walking away with about $15,000 in cash."
While Bams allegedly went into a bank branch to steal from Eric Johnson's account, police say he often used the drive-through. That way, they say, he was less conspicuous.
"If he had a female whose account he was wanting to hit, he would have a female in the passenger seat and have her interact with the individual tellers," Bible explained. "It's harder to see out, harder to see across, but he always had the driver's license that he was able to pass through to represent he or she was the person."
Transaction receipts might have the bank account number on them. Det. Bible says with it, Bams could then go to any bank branch he wanted and withdraw from accounts more freely. Det. Bible believes Bams hit a lot more than the 12 victims she identified and says you need to be the police of your own account to protect against fraud
"People need to make sure to be diligent in checking their account information online," Det. Bible said. "Question purchases that they're personally not familiar with and very secretly guard their account information."