Fun With Fraud

I was dozing on my pool deck recently when the phone suddenly jarred me awake.

On the other end of the line was a very distraught friend telling me that she’d just found out someone had tapped into her bank account and withdrawn over $1000 in unauthorized purchases at two separate Wal-Mart stores in Miami-Dade County.

My first advice to her was to call the bank. After all, everyone knows that banks have customer service lines staffed with people who have magical powers to help us through our financial challenges 24/7.

I was there when she made the call to the bank … a bank with which she’s done business for over 15 years.

I’ll spare you the unpleasant details. Bottom line? It was my friend’s responsibility to prove she’d been victimized. And it could take up to 60 days before the money would be put back in her account … assuming she could prove she wasn’t at fault.

The most compassionate question that came out of the customer service person on the other end of the line was: “Are you sure you didn’t spend the money and simply forgot about it?”

Suddenly my friend began to feel like the criminal.

She would have to file a police report and an affidavit swearing that the thousand bucks that had been lifted from her account had been the result of an unauthorized transaction. The bank left no doubt as to whose shoulders the burden of proof would lie.

The next morning, I accompanied her to the nearest branch of the bank where she was advised to close out her current account and open a new one so whoever had her account number could no longer access her funds.

“Get proactive,” I advised. “Let’s take it one step further and get Wal-Mart involved. Surely they have a policy for dealing with such things.”

The fun was just beginning.

Our first stop was the Wal-Mart in Hialeah Gardens, the scene of one of three unauthorized purchases.

To be fair, the store was very cooperative. But the steps along the way were somewhat hysterical.

For example, we were told to go to the Prevention Loss Department (better known as security) — which for some odd reason was in the ladies fitting room.

“I haven’t seen any of them today. I don’t think they’re in yet,” the young woman at the counter told us.

I turned to my friend. “Now would be a good time to rob the place,” I said. Only kidding.

After jumping through more hoops than lions at the circus, we finally found the person who could help us locate the register at which the transaction occurred. We gave her all the information and were told they would be in touch if they found anything.

Next stop … the Hialeah Springs Police Department where the woman on duty at the front desk told us “the officers are all out.”

“Where are they,” I asked?

“Out. They went on a call. I don’t know where. But if you come back in a couple of hours, they will be here,” she said.

I wondered what would have happened if I had walked in and announced I had just killed three people. Would she have been able to find the officers then?

I decided to keep my thoughts to myself.

So, off we went to the Wal-Mart in north Miami-Dade where the other two unauthorized transactions had been made.

Two managers, a money supervisor and several miles around the store later, we were told we’d be called when they found something.

From there we headed to the Miami-Dade Police Dept. near Opa-Locka Airport to fill out a police report.

In the meantime, we received a call from the store manager at the North Dade store telling us that they’d found the transactions and were setting aside security camera tapes for the police officers should they need them.

There was a slight glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Our second trip to the Hialeah Gardens police department was very productive. The officers were extremely polite and the report was filed in minutes.

The next morning my friend handed in her affidavit at the bank and was prepared to wait the 60 days before the $1000 was put back in her account.

Our work was done.

Three days later, the bank called to say the money had been put back in her account because neither store contested or questioned the fact that the transactions had indeed been fraudulent.

Hallelujah!

Not so fast.

That victory was somewhat short-lived. You see, the money was returned. But it was put into the closed account!

And just when we thought the bank couldn’t get any stupider … it did.

My friend called them to try to get the problem resolved and was told: “Sorry, ma’am that account is closed and we can no longer access it.”

She had the call on speakerphone so I could witness the bureaucratic brilliance coming from the other end of the line.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all.

“But you accessed it to put money in. Why can’t you access it to put it into the right account?”

Suddenly the silence was deafening. It seems the person on the other end of the line activated a few cells in her brain long enough to realize my friend had a valid point.

“OK, let me get my supervisor and see what I can do.”

Ah, yes, the supervisor. Also known as the length of time we’re put on hold while everyone on the other end thinks up an excuse for being so ignorant.

A few keystrokes of a computer later and the entire unfortunate incident was resolved.

Next time you’re tempted to fight bureaucracy with common sense remember to bring patience and a sense of humor as your weapons.

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