Woman stops payment to scammer, bank pays him anyway

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One of the biggest scams targeted a Marin County woman recently in the privacy of her own home - but the worst part? She thought she halted the fraudster in his tracks, stopped payment on a check she gave -- and yet, her bank paid the bad guy anyway. (KGO-TV)

Scammers seem to be crawling out of the ethernet these days, and no matter how many warnings, they're still catching victims off guard.

One of the biggest scams targeted a Marin County woman recently in the privacy of her own home - but the worst part? She thought she halted the fraudster in his tracks, stopped payment on a check she gave -- and yet, her bank paid the bad guy anyway.

"I was robbed in my own home, on a beautiful day, on a Sunday afternoon,'' Kentfield resident Betsie Diamond said. "And my bank, I've been with my bank 34 years and they didn't help me."

It began when Diamond completed an online shopping order, hit send, and suddenly her computer screen turned blue.

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"It was the blue screen of death,'' she said. "It was completely frozen."

She said a message popped up saying her computer had been infected by a virus and she should immediately call Microsoft at the number on the scree.

"I was panicked, I freaked out,'' Diamond recalls. "I ran to the living room and my phone was frozen, so was my tablet, and my computer."

When her own tech support consultant didn't answer his phone, Diamond called that phone number that popped up on the screen.

Big mistake.

"I talked to the guy and he said yes, I was compromised but don't worry we're here to help, we're here to help,'' Diamond recalls. "He said I needed to give him remote access to my computer so he could look at it and find out what was wrong with it."

Diamond did allow the man on the phone to take control of her computer. He was fishing around in her computer files for hours.

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"I could see he went into everything on my computer,'' she said. "Suddenly I saw my name and birthdate and our social security numbers up on the screen and I started to freak out."

The man then told her she needed to install security software and a firewall. He offered a five-year plan, typing out the information on her screen. The man said the service would include deleting junk files, repairing damaged files, deleting all viruses and activating a firewall. All for $499.99 - payable by check.

"I was going to mail him the check and he said no, no, no we have to scan the check,'' Diamond recalls. She wrote him the check, and scanned it. As the man grabbed the check image, Diamond's tech support consultant called her back.

"I told him I got the blue screen of death and the man took over my computer,'' she recalled. "He said Betsie, turn off the computer. Turn off the computer. Microsoft does not operate that way. This isn't them. You've been frauded!"

Her husband, Rollie Clasen, was in the next room when it happened.

"I heard silence, then screaming, then cursing,'' he recalled. "I ran into the room to see what was wrong and she was completely freaked out."

Diamond said the man was still typing messages on her screen when she immediately called Wells Fargo Bank to stop payment on that $500 check. She said the bank representative told her the money was safe.

"They said, 'it's a good thing you wrote a check because you can stop payment on it,' " Diamond recalls. "They gave me a confirmation number, a stop payment order, and assured me I would get my money back."

However, that did not happen.

Two days after Diamond stopped payment on the check, Wells Fargo deducted the $500 from her account and paid it to the scammer. Diamond couldn't believe it.

"I told them exactly what was happening, that it was a scam, that the guy scanned the check and had an electronic copy and they said no problem, I'd get that money back,'' she said. "Why did they turn around and pay the guy?"

She filed a claim with the bank, but the bank said she had authorized the payment, and so she could not get a refund.

"I mean, what does stop payment mean?" Diamond said. "It should mean you stop the payment! "

In its denial letter, the bank said:

"The transaction that debited the account was an electronic item, instead of a check, therefore the stop payment order did not prevent the debit."

Diamond demanded to know why the bank officer didn't tell her a stop payment would be useless, and to take other action?

The letter said:

"We regret any misinformation or unsatisfactory service you might have received regarding this matter."

Diamond contacted 7 On Your Side. Our team contacted Wells Fargo Bank, asking why it paid the fraudster two days after she reported the fraud.

The bank did not address specifics of the case, citing customer confidentiality rules.

However, a spokesperson later said that once a fraudster has a customer's account information, "extra steps" may be required to stop a transaction. So why didn't the bank advise Diamond to shut or freeze her account if a stop payment was insufficient? The bank said in a statement "Due to customer confidentiality, we cannot provide details on specific customer issues.''

But it also said: "Wells Fargo has resolved the issue for our customer."

And it did. Five days after our inquiries to the bank, Diamond got a surprise.

"I woke up on a Wednesday morning and sure enough there was my $500 in my checking account!" Diamond said. "And I was ecstatic. I couldn't believe it. I was so happy."

Lessons: A stop payment doesn't always stop a payment; at least three days may be required. Also, never ever give anyone remote access to your computer unless you are the one who initiated the request for help - and it's someone you know and trust.

Click here for a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
Related Topics:
technologyhackingfraudscamscamsviruscomputersconsumer concernsconsumer7 On Your SidebankKentfield
(Copyright ©2018 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)




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