A St. Paul couple found their faith in the online banking system shaken recently, after more than $14,000 mysteriously disappeared from their accounts over the course of three transactions.
“It’s scary,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. “To me, it’s scary to know what else can they take from you?”
She and her husband conducted their banking online through Servus Credit Union, and she added she never used a public computer to do anything related to banking. She and her husband have rental properties, and the damage deposits are put into an account that she doesn’t use and only checks irregularly. “I thought I didn’t need to (check). You just assume your money is going to be safe.”
Towards the end of June, she’d asked her husband to deposit the rent cheques, which he did before July 1. However, since some were only dated for July 1, she was concerned the cheques wouldn’t have cleared, so she decided to go online to check the situation.
“I was double checking to make sure those cheques hadn’t bounced and noticed that our account is low.” In the course of a week and two transactions, $7,300 was taken out of two separate accounts and transferred to a CIBC Visa.
She called the bank’s call centre, where she was advised she had to go in to the branch. “At that point, I wasn’t too concerned. I actually thought it was their error,” she said, noting she didn’t have a CIBC Visa.
She went in to the branch the next week, and after she spoke to the bank manager, realized that more was at play than a bank error. Luckily, bank representatives told them they wouldn’t be charged interest on the overdraft caused by the withdrawals. “The bank manager has been absolutely wonderful. They’ve been very supportive,” she said.
She had to file a police report, and have her computer scanned, which revealed that nothing was wrong with the computer and it had no viruses. She was also assured that the online banking system should be 100 per cent secure, but she wanted answers as to what happened. “I want to know I’m getting my money back,” she said, adding, “I thought $7,300 was a lot of money. It wasn’t finished.”
The following morning, she spoke to the bank manager, who reassured her again they wouldn’t have to pay interest. Any payback of the money lost would have to wait, however, until the bank’s insurance company completed its investigation. On that same day, the bank manager saw that another $7,000 had been taken from the couple’s personal account.
“At this point, they wiped us out,” she said. The fact that someone could access information off her personal password-protected computer and secured account was still absolutely mind-boggling for her. Although she says she’ll be “OK” with the situation as long as she gets her money back in the end, she’s not sure she will ever feel secure enough to use online banking again.
“What are we going to do with our money, start digging in the backyard?” she asked.
Const. John Spaans, who handles media requests for the St. Paul RCMP Detachment, says that the couple’s case is unique in involving money transferred out of an online account.
“We don’t know how that could actually happen. I’ve never heard of that before,” he said, adding that banks’ online banking systems are very secure. There are criminals that have worked out how to tamper with Interac machines, or take debit and pin information from ATM machines, but usually, in those cases, they withdraw money from people’s accounts rather than transferring money.
“We encourage people to use cash, especially for smaller purchases. There’s a lot less risk in using cash,” he said. He also said that when making online purchases, it’s never a bad idea to use a third party system, such as Pay Pal, to make sure the transaction is secure.
It may be possible to track down the CIBC Visa in question in the couple’s case, but banks do rightly protect the privacy of their customers, so the RCMP has to apply to a judge for a production order and then a search warrant. After that, they may find the Visa may be a fraudulent or stolen credit card, he notes.
Both he and the fraud victim advise people to be aware of their own bank account activity. “In my opinion, there are so many people that don’t keep an eye on their accounts. If anything, keep an eye on your account,” she said.