COTATI, Calif. (KGO) -- It was a big problem during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployed workers received their Employment Development Department benefits on Bank of America debit cards -- but they were targets of fraudsters who drained millions of dollars from workers' accounts.
Many could not get reimbursed.
This year, BofA was fined $225 million for automatically denying their claims.
The problem seemed to go away. But now, a North Bay man says thieves drained his EDD debit account, too.
Banks are required by law to investigate every claim of fraud on a customer's account. Bank regulators ruled that Bank of America instead used fraud filters to automatically deny claims during the pandemic. BofA says it stopped that practice -- but this viewer says someone hijacked his EDD account, took thousands of dollars -- and the bank shut down his claim.
Alfredo Mancilla of Cotati was recovering from surgery when it happened. "It was a shock to me to find out close to $15,000 was taken out of my account," he said. "I thought, man, this money got stolen from me and I can't get it back."
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Someone had stolen the disability payments from his EDD debit account. Nearly $15,000 -- gone.
"And that money is a lot of money to someone who has a wife and two kids and is on disability... I got behind on my house payments... that did scare me," said Mancilla.
Mancilla realized something was wrong when Bank of America suddenly froze his debit card.
"I thought, why is it frozen?" he said.
When he checked with the bank, he found out his account was now linked to a stranger's email and a phone number in Texas.
His statement showed several charges he never made.
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But the worst part: he saw three large money transfers, totaling almost $15,000, had gone into three separate bank accounts.
None of them belonged to Mancilla.
"I told them that the transfers that were being made were not mine... the account numbers were not mine," he said.
Mancilla filed a claim with Bank of America. But the bank rejected it right away.
The bank said: "We've completed a review and determined no error has occurred."
"It felt like I got hit in the stomach when they denied my claim the first time, the second time and the third time," Mancilla said.
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The bank denied his claim two more times, saying, "Our original decision was correct."
"It just baffles me the lack of effort that they did to try to rectify this problem, knowing that they have problems like this, you know, for the last few years now," Mancilla said.
Mancilla says the bank could have simply checked the accounts that received his money to find the thieves who really took it.
Also the bank might've noticed his account was linked to an email with a domain based on an island near Madagascar.
"They would have seen that my name was not on them... It's ridiculous they wouldn't want to do anything to correct it," he said.
7 On Your Side asked Bank of America if it had used an automated fraud filter to decide his claim.
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A spokesperson said: "We have not used that filter in more than a year."
However, the bank did reverse its decision, and put that money back into Mancilla's account. Mancilla was amazed.
"You shed so much light into my life... It's the greatest feeling in the whole world, know(ing) what was stolen from me, I got back -- thanks to you guys," Mancilla said. "So party's at my house next weekend!"
Bank of America says it actually helped to stop much of the fraud that plagued relief programs during the pandemic. The bank also has said it no longer wants to be the provider of the Employment Development Department's debit cards -- this will be its last year under contract.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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