The Shady Side of the Law: In Which I Manage to Report Myself to the Fraud Squad!

It is somewhat a relief to be sitting behind my computer screen, and not behind bars this afternoon. Only an hour ago I was staring at the recording device fixed to the “Brigade Financière de la Police’s” computer, otherwise known as “The Fraud Squad” in a state of nervous anxiety.

Last week I found in my letter-box a “Convocation” (summons) from the “Direction General de la Police Nationale”, the “Direction Centrale de la Securité Publique”, the “Surete Departmentale” and the “Brigade Financière”. Scary stuff when the “motif” or reason is noted only as “Affaire vous concernant”. In otherwords – “An affair concerning YOU”. I had the letter a good week in advance of my convocation, and therefore plenty of time to stress over the possible crimes I had committed during the last few years. None immediately sprang to mind, but I had visions of being carted off in menottes (handcuffs), placed in “Garde à Vue”(custody) and using my one free phone-call to call the kids and let them know I wouldn’t be home for supper, or perhaps for a year or two!


I rang the police the day of the letter, but no-one was kind enough to let me know what I had done, for fear I suppose of eradicating the evidence in the interim. So today I walked into the Police headquarters, not entirely sure if I would walk out again, and still dressed in my “upstanding citizen” and “spokesperson for the city of Rouen” clothes following my morning’s guided tour. The police officer behind the counter raised an eyebrow and told me to sit down.

Moments later the lift doors opened and a plain-clothes officer motioned for me to follow him with a demeanor as cold as wintery air outside. When the lift doors opened again I spotted a door to my left annotated “Departement d’Investigation Criminelle” and felt a surge of fear. We went through the right door! Two desks were placed along the wall, laden with manilla dossiers, and on its own, in the middle of the room, a solitary chair with recording devices trained upon it. I was invited to sit down!


The officer took sundry details such as my parents names, maiden names, my address, occupation , salary, and number of children in tow, before getting down to the nitty-gritty. In 2012 I had reported a cheque-book missing at my bank, and as a cheque had been drawn against my account the bank asked me to report it to the police station. In fact, in France, since cheques are cleared the same day as they are presented, it is very difficult to make an “opposition” against a cheque and only can be done by “Porte’ing Plainte” at the local gendarmerie.

In 2012 my mastery of the French language can be at best described as inadequate. For example, and still on the banking theme, one day I had received two letters in the post, one containing a cheque-book, and the other containing a letter from the bank asking me to call them. It took me at least five attempts at listening to the inevitable recorded message before I could choose option 1, 2 or 3, and then another half dozen calls before I got through sub-menu 2 and spoke to a real person. When I did, I discovered that I had only needed to ring the bank if I hadn’t received the cheque-book. Which just goes to show that when you have a feeble mastery of a language it can take a very long time to succeed in doing the wrong thing.

So it was that although I had understood that I had to “porte plainte” at the Police station to oppose the cheques, what I hadn’t forseen was that on the return journey to the bank with document and crime number I would remember that it was me that had written the offending cheques as a series to be deducted monthly for my children’s ice-skating lessons. By the time I arrived back at the bank, it had closed for lunch…and the rest of the weekend…which lasts until tuesday. I had therefore accused myself of stealing and fraudulently writing cheques. What the bank didn’t tell me, when I confessed all the following tuesday was that I had to return to the Police station and withdraw my “Plainte”.

So in the Fraud office of the Direction Generale de la Police Nationale this afternoon I had to convince the investigating officer that I was just a incompetent, and rather dim women approaching her middle years, which wasn’t too difficult since I had to ask for several questions to be repeated twice…. and then he only had to listen to my accent.

As we returned to the lift, the investigating officer was friendly and expansive and shook my hand as the lift came to a stop.

As for the future, well my dossier goes back to the prosecutor, “le procureur generale”, who I rather hope will be my old neighbour, and be inclined to think kindly on me. At least I have been released back into the community and there are no hand-cuffs in sight and at worst I could receive a fine for having wasted police time.

But I have no-one to blame but myself!


Au Secours – Voleur!

In the spirit of Princess Di claiming that there were “3 in her marriage”, my husband has from time to time had occasion to claim that a third party was likewise also “enjoying” our bank account. The euro, it appears is startlingly easy to spend, and I have always rather ridiculed my husband’s claims, knowing full well that he lives with me, and I do have a particular penchant for flowers, nice wine and the not so  occasional box of chocolates.

Today I wandered down to my bank in our quartier and in the process of getting a ‘historique’ – a neat little mini-statement, noticed a rather bizarre cheque withdrawl. Puzzling over it for a few minutes, it was sufficiently strange for me to succumb to my husband’s theory that something was ‘not quite right’.

My local bank is fabulous. It’s esprit is something out 1980’s England where every bank manager knew his customers by name. No sooner my foot was over the threshold than the lone bank clerk welcomed me by name and tapped in to his computer my details without so much as a jog to his memory. I never cease to be amazed by their ability to do so – though my peculiar accent may have something to do with it.

Today I held up the offending ‘historique’ and explained that absolutely certainly I had not written this particular cheque, that in fact I had scoured my memory for at least the last six months and could not place it. I went as far as to explain that cheques weren’t much used any longer in the UK. The system for cheques in France is entirely different from that of England. To begin with, a cheque is considered to be cash. A cheque written one day will be cleared instantly the very next. A large proportion of the french public still use cheques to pay for everyday products. Frequently I find myself simmering in the supermarket check-out queue whilst a customer settles down to pay for their groceries by cheque – a lengthy process requiring production of a ‘Carte d’Identité’ and the recording of it’s reference number. Similarly, sticking with the ‘living in the 80’s theory’, extra curricular clubs and activities insist on a year’s fees and subscriptions being paid ‘up-front’ by cheque. Since the clubs have no facility for paying by direct debit, such cheques can amount to hundred’s of euros, relieved from the bank account the very next day. One of the French systems that in my opinion could really do with an overhall.

We have just had an extended bank holiday and as such the neighbourhood was pretty quiet with the majority of the city holidaying away in the country. The prospect of a crime was pretty exciting and it was not long before the manager and another clerk has exited their offices to take part in the investigation. Five minutes later we had noted that eight such cheques, all to the same value had been withdrawn at regular intervals, all in the the same part of town, and one not often frequented by me. It pointed to only one thing – vol et usage fraudulente d’un chequier. (theft and fraudulent usage of a cheque book). The cheque book was definitively no longer in my possession. Several signed declarations later, I left the bank under instruction of the manager to ‘porte un plaînte’ (make a statement) to the gendarmerie.


On arrival at the Gendarmerie, I handed in my identity card and reported my loss, handing over the bank’s documentation and we settled down to clarify matters and record it. A few minutes into the activity, a young police woman came into the bureau to take the officer’s lunch order, and we diverted activity to decide whether the officer’s sandwich would be ‘avec legumes ou crudités’ – much discussion pursued before coming to a decision between a ‘religieuse’ or an ‘eclair’. The general consensus was that ‘Chocolat’ was imperatif, and would they go to the maître boulangere, and not to Henri Bloggs au coin. I attempted to add my own order to the list, sounding much more impressive than anything back in my larder, but to no avail.

The ‘plaînte’ made, I signed yet more copious copies of paperwork, primarily for activating the insurance on my bank account and made my way back to the bank to hand it in.

I was no further than 100 yards from my bank when a cog in my brain made a slight shift – a slow dawning of conciousness, and I began to weigh up the possibility that it wasn’t so much a ‘perte de chequier’  but a ‘perte de memoire’. Some 9 months ago I had written a series of forward-dated cheques in order to spread the cost of a subscription to a club which we no longer attend. I passed by the bank very slowly weighing up the possibilities, making eye contact with the clerk who was pausing momentarily with his finger on the roller-shutter button to see if I was going to re-enter, before setting the shutter in motion.

And just as the shutter came to rest of the floor, and  the metal grill slid across the door to the gendarmerie for the  officer to tuck into his ‘poulet roti avec crudités’  and his ‘religieuse’, I concluded that I had just launched an attack for fraud by the Police Nationale on….

….my children’s ice skating club!

If only my memory had been as good as the bank clerk’s!