Thursday, January 25, 2007

Victimizing the Victims Part I

You never think it's going to happen to you. You think you are doing everything you are supposed to be doing, taking precautions like you are warned to do.

Then one day, you go to the grocery store to grab a few groceries on your way home from work and your debit card is rejected. Now, you've done the math wrong from time to time and had this happen but the bank (because you have overdraft protection) covers it for you and charges you some outrageous fee for the privilege. But you don't begrudge the service because it keeps you from writing rubber checks and being charged with fraud or uttering bad checks. But you are pretty sure you have enough money to cover $50 worth of groceries. So you write a check to cover because it really probably just the fact that your card is bent and the machine isn't reading it right.

So you come home and bring your bank account records up on line only to discover that you are over drawn by more than $1,000! Now, you know your math skills aren't THAT bad, so you frantically scroll down over your statement report to find a charge for $300.00 even at Macy's in Santa Clarita, California. Then there's a charge for $300.00 even at Sears in Santa Clarita, California and then another at the same Sears for the same amount and then a fourth charge for $300.00 again at the Macy's. There is also a $150 overdraft fee from the bank. All of it on the same day. It was 2 days ago.

$1350.00 gone.

Shit! Someone has stolen your money!

You call the bank and leave a message because it's 7:30 p.m. and they are closed. You tell them that they must not make anymore payments on that account.

Then you call the Sheriff's Department where you are told by a deputy AND his supervisor that they can't take your complaint because the charges were in Santa Clarita, California. But they begrudgingly tell you that someone will come out to the house to take a complaint if you insist. You do. You've heard about this kind of thing and you know you have to file a criminal complaint so the bank can refund your money and start their own investigation.

While you are waiting, just to cover your behind, you call the Santa Clarita Sheriff's Department where they pass you around for a while, then put you on hold for 22 minutes until you end up talking to a deputy who says you have to file the complaint with your local sheriff's department. She is rude about it. She refuses to let you talk to her supervisor and then she hangs up on you because you insist on talking to her supervisor.

You make a mental note to write a complaint letter to the Sheriff of Santa Clarita, California.

Then you call your Representative in the Virginia General Assembly. They are also closed but you leave a message. You know you may need some help.

You write an email to your friend who works with Victim Services in Richmond and ask her for a contact person at the Attorney General's Office who works with fraud cases.

You go back to the bank statement and decide that even though Virginia shuts down at dark, it's only 7:45 p.m. so California is probably still open for business. So you get on the internet and look up the phone number for customer service at the Santa Clarita, California Macy's. The gal there is nice. She gives you an 800 # and warns you that the automated operator will keep asking for an account # but you need to just keep saying "Help."

You call that number and sure enough you repeat the word "Help" about 8 times before a real live person comes on the line. Somewhere along the 6th time you say "help", tears start welling up in your eyes. It dawns on you that you really are a crime victim, you have lost the equivalent of an entire paycheck to some stranger with a computer and you really truly do need help.

The real live person who comes on the line at that local store notes immediately that you need to talk someone at their headquarters in Ohio in the fraud department and gives you the 800 # but offers to connect you. She does that and a young man comes on the line. He's nice, but says he can't help you because the charges were made on a third-party account and not a Macy's charge card. You have a melt down. The drama queen finally comes out. And he listens through it all. Twice. Then you are calm. You take a breath. You laugh a little. You tell him you are sorry for the ranting. He apologies for being unable to help you. He at least sounds sincere. He tells you that because all four transactions were for an even dollar amount it sounds to him like the thieves were buying gift cards. You agree that this makes sense.

It's now 9:30 at night. No deputy has come to take your complaint. You decide to go to bed and take a sleeping pill so you can rest because you have to testify in court tomorrow against criminals who do things like this to people and you need to rest because you need to be able to think clearly and be professional and not break down in tears on the stand because you are so angry and so frustrated.

You wake up at 4:00 a.m. You look again at the bank statement and get out the calculator and figure out that if this had not happened, you would have $250.67 left until pay day. It's not much, but you could buy groceries and fill your car with gas once. You know how to make that much stretch over a week.

You note again that the fraudulent charges were made two days ago. You worry because you have to be in court all day and cannot get to the bank. So you call the bank back and explain more calmly this time that you did write a check to the grocery store the night before on this account and it needs to be covered, but nothing else is outstanding and nothing else should be paid and that your husband will be coming in to talk to them today about this and you are giving him permission to handle this business because you have to be in court all day today and cannot come in. You give them the approved check # and the number of the account in question.

You know this is entirely too much information to pack into an automated voice mail. But you feel panicked because they must not let any more of your money go out. You think about the trip you made to California in May when the bank would not let you pay your hotel bill with the debit card because it was over $500 and they had a limit on how much could be transacted at any one time from out of state. You guess that anything over $300 must be too much and the criminals who steal money know this.

You go back on the internet and look up state law. It only takes a couple of minutes but you find that in the Code of Virginia 18.2-186.3:1 it states: A. A consumer may report a case of identity theft to the law-enforcement agency in the jurisdiction where he resides.

You also find this piece of Virginia Code: 8.4A-204 (a) If a receiving bank accepts a payment order issued in the name of its customer as sender which is (i) not authorized and not effective as the order of the customer under 8.4A-202, or (ii) not enforceable, in whole or part, against the customer under 8.4A-203, the bank shall refund any payment of the payment order received from the customer to the extent the bank is not entitled to enforce payment and shall pay interest on the refundable amount calculated from the date the bank received payment to the date of the refund.

You find it also gives you 90 days to find the problem and report it.

You interpret this on first reading to mean that the bank has to refund your money and cannot charge you the overdraft fee. On second reading, you think they may interpret this to mean they have to pay you interest against what is missing if they would have owed interest on it if it had been left in the bank. In any case, the 90 day notice seems important.

You call the Sheriff's Department back and tell them you found the state law that says they have to take your complaint. The dispatcher tells you that you will have to come into the office to file the complaint. You explain that you are in court all day and why. He tells you to stop by on the way home. You begin to feel victimized again and tears well up in your eyes. You know you look swollen and miserable.

You wake your son because it is time for him to get ready for school. You realize you have been awake for two hours and still haven't made coffee. You start writing about this in your blog because if these people are ever caught you want a well documented story that you can put in your victim impact statement.

You know this may end up being a long drawn out nightmare. You just hope they don't have access to your credit cards, too.


Barbara said...

oh Cate!!!

I'm so sorry. I am pretty sure that the bank will be able to help you with this immediately.

Robin said...

Oh, Cate! I'm so sorry this has happened to you. It looks like you have a good handle on what to do and I appreciate the info you posted. Hang in there and keep us posted how things are going.