SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- When your bank alerts you to a fraudulent charge on your debit card - and you confirm it's not yours, the bank will stop the payment to the scammer.
That's what a Bay Area woman thought. Instead, the bank, weeks later, told her she had to prove someone was stealing money out of her account.
"It was surreal,'' Sarah Fiene of San Francisco. "It felt surreal. How could this be happening?"
Fiene says she was at work when she received a robocall from Bank of America.
"It said, 'We suspect some fraudulent activity on your debit card.','' Fiene recalled. "It gave a number to call to find out what was going on."
She called the number immediately, but had to wait on hold for 40 minutes. A customer service representative asked Fiene if she had made a $372 purchase to a telecom company. Fiene had never heard of it.
"I said no I did not authorize this charge,'' Fiene said. "I don't recognize this company. "
She was still on the phone as more charges came in.
"There must have been some identity theft because somebody kept charging on the card as long as they could. I said, no, none of these are my charges I have not authorized any of these charges. They said, 'OK we'll take them off your charge and we'd better close your debit account. We'll send you a new one.' "
A couple hours later, she'd closed the account and confirmed Bank of America would not charge her for the fraudulent purchases.
"Several weeks later I checked my bank activity again just to make sure and I couldn't believe it,'' Fiene said. "That first charge of $372 was still on my account. I was confused and bewildered. It was extremely upsetting."
She went immediately to her bank branch where, she says, the agents were as surprised as she was that the charge went through.
"I thought OK somebody made a mistake, I'm sure they'll take care of it and they were very nice about it."
She filed a claim for that money back. But weeks later, to her surprise, the bank denied her claim, saying she must have authorized that payment and it was correct.
"That was so upsetting, that this bank who I trusted with my money let somebody else steal my money and then didn't do what they said they were going to do,'' which was to stop the payment to the thief.
She called the fraud department asking why it denied her claim. It said she must have made that purchase since the buyer had her home address. It also said that she didn't act quickly enough to report the scam.
"It made no sense to me at all,'' she said. After all, it was the bank that had alerted her to the fraud. Now it was saying there was no fraud?
"Then they said they would reopen the case if I could provide new evidence that it was really somebody stealing my money, which was impossible for me. I didn't have any new information. The bank had all the information about where it came from, and the recordings with me on the phone. I felt powerless and also I was angry''
Fiene tried asking the bank to investigate further-- after all she'd been a customer there for two decades.
"Where your money is, it's one of the most vulnerable places and you need to feel like your bank is watching out for you and believing you and just put a little trust in verifying your account of things,'' she says. "They were the ones that were safeguarding my money and somebody took my money under their watch and now the burden, they put the burden on me to prove that my money had been stolen."
"I said you know you took this money out of my account and gave it to somebody and it's my money and I would really appreciate if you could return the money to me."
Fiene said none of those arguments worked. She contacted ABC7, 7 On Your Side. We contacted Bank of America and it reopened her claim. Shortly after, it reversed its decision and reimbursed her account for that $372 after all. The bank did not provide any statement about what happened in the case, why the claim was denied, and why it reimbursed some of the fraudulent charges but not the original one. It said only that it refunded her account.
"I was thankful to 7 On Your Side and the people who advocated for me because I would have been a victim."
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and the 7 On Your Side team here.