Here's how to protect yourself from losing thousands of dollars at the bank

Viewers from across the country are responding to an East Bay man's struggle to find out what happened to his money
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A 7 On Your Side story about a Bank of America customer whose $33,000 deposit disappeared has been exploding online this week.

Thousands of viewers across the country are responding to the East Bay man's struggle to find out what happened to his money -- some saying they lost deposits too, or worry it can happen to them.

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Hours after Leonard deposited a $33K cashier's check at a California Bank of America, the branch was closed, with his deposit nowhere to be found.

So, how can you protect yourself? Here's how to make sure your money is safe.

You may recall this viewer went straight to the teller at BofA with a cashier's check for $33,000 and deposited it at the window. But BofA shut down that branch hours later and that big deposit vanished. The bank kept saying there was nothing it could do. So, what can you do?

It seemed almost surreal. Brian Leonard transferred $33,000 from his account at Wells Fargo to his account at Bank of America. He brought the cashier's check straight to the BofA teller so it would clear right away -- no mistakes.

He never saw that money again. "I'm starting to think I might never see the money. Ever."

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The bank branch shut down hours after he made that huge deposit -- the bank said it never happened.

"Because there was no electronic record of the transaction, the transaction didn't exist," Brian Leonard said.

"I said, 'You're telling me Bank of America lost $33,000 of my money and there's nothing you can do?' 'That's right sir,'" he continued.

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Scammers are using the fear of rampant banking fraud to lure their victims. It cost one man half his life savings.

Consumer advocate Ed Mierzwinski, Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program at U.S. PIRG, says Leonard's experience is all too common -- with complaints pouring in to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "They're entrusted with your money and this is happening too often," Mierzwinski said.

"Over the last three years they've had tens of thousands of complaints of people having trouble with deposits or withdrawals on checking accounts," he said. "Why are we having so many problems with something as simple as, you put money in the bank, you take it out?"

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Leonard showed his cashier's check and deposit receipt to a manager at another Bank of America branch, proof of the missing money. No one would find his money.

"It was a Greek chorus of, there's nothing we can do about it," Leonard said.

"The consumer did everything right. The consumer used a cashier's check, had copies of everything..." Mierzwinski confirmed.

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Bank of America has said it will not ask customers to transfer money between accounts or request sensitive information.

Leonard went to great lengths to solve the problem -- contacting the CEO at Bank of America, federal regulators and 7 On Your Side.

And finally the bank restored his money.

"You shouldn't have to go to 7 On Your Side to get your money back," Mierzwinski said.

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Criminals are targeting other bank customers, in addition to Bank to America, tricking them into sending them money through Zelle.

Bank of America said the problem arose because the check was made out to Bank of America, not to Brian Leonard -- but didn't say why no one tracked down his money.

So, how can you protect yourself?

  • Keep copies of checks you deposit and the deposit receipt

  • Take photos of the checks and receipts in case you need to file a complaint

  • Check your account immediately after a deposit. it should show it as pending

  • Avoid depositing a big check at an ATM where it's harder to correct a mistake

And if you have a bank problem, you should report it to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- and of course let me know about it, too.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

Have a question for Michael and the 7 On Your Side team? Fill out the form HERE!
7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.

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