This is one of the top complaints received by NBCLA’s I-Team: Consumers say they answered a phone call that appeared to come from their bank, but instead it was a scammer who stole thousands of dollars in their account. Consumers say their banks often refuse to reimburse them, but our I-Team learned that these banks might be responsible after all.
When a Bank of America phone number popped up on Daniel Unger’s cell phone, he picked up.
“I would usually never answer an 800 number, I would just let it go to voicemail,” Unger said. “But because he had the Bank of America contact that I knew, I answered it, obviously thinking at the time that it was legit.”
The person on the other end of the line said he was calling about suspicious transactions on Unger’s debit card. Daniel said he didn’t make them.
“He said, ‘No problem, Mr. Unger, we’ll go there and take care of it, stay with me, it may take a few minutes but we’ll rectify the situation,'” Unger said.
But that’s not what happened. The caller had spoofed Bank of America’s phone number, tricking Unger into thinking he was calling from the bank. He asked Unger to change his online banking password to protect his money, but in reality it just gave the scammer access to that account, where he transferred $11,000 overseas.
“It’s embarrassing to realize that all you had to do was hang up or not answer the phone,” Unger said. “But the way they spoofed it, the way they imitated the phone call, I never got over it in my head, so mentally they got me.”
Unger said he immediately filed a claim with Bank of America, but the bank denied it. And he is not alone. The I-Team received dozens of similar complaints, with consumers losing thousands of dollars. Their banks have also denied their claims. Consumers say their banks blamed them, saying they allowed scammers to access their money.
Consumer lawyer Jay Rahimi thinks the banks are wrong.
“You’re supposed to be able to dispute those transactions and get those funds back,” Rahimi said.
Rahimi argues that these victims are protected by Regulation E, which establishes rules for electronic money transfers, such as debit card or payment app transactions. If a consumer disputes a transaction, Rahimi says the onus is on the bank to prove that the consumer authorized it. And even if the consumer authorized it, but was fraudulently induced to do so, like Unger, Rahimi says he is not responsible for the loss.
The I-Team also contacted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the government agency created to ensure that consumers are treated fairly by banks and other financial institutions. He agrees with Rahimi.
So why are banks refusing consumer complaints? Rahimi says because no one is suppressing them. But he says lawyers are watching some court cases closely.
“Although the settlement says one thing, the banks might be able to convince the judge to rule another way,” Rahimi said. “There just hasn’t been enough litigation around it.”
After the I-Team contacted Bank of America, it refunded Unger his $11,000. He said in a statement: “Based on additional research, we have determined that the account has been compromised.”
The I-Team also contacted the American Bankers Association, a banking industry trade group. In a statement, he did not address a bank’s obligation under Regulation E, even though we asked. But he said: “If you get a call, text or email asking for account information or asking you to send money, remember that banks never ask for it.”
If you receive a call and you think it might be your bank, hang up and call the bank using the number on the back of your debit card.
It’s something Unger would have liked to do.
“They are evil,” he said. “And they’re really good at what they do.”