Back to Blog

Know Your Banking Customers, Especially Reporters

Mark_twainRemember the old saying (usually attributed to Mark Twain), "Never pick a fight with someone who buys his ink by the barrel." An unnamed "national bank" has created an enemy of LA Times reporter Steve Lopez, who so far, has not publicly identified the bank that refused to reimburse him for the $2000 drained out of his account after an ATM-card-skimming incident. But given his location, and the hints in the article, it’s probably Wells Fargo, BofA, or WAMU. Given our personal experience with the relatively strict Wells Fargo credit card authorization guidelines, combined with the relatively small WAMU checking account base, our money is on BofA as the culprit.

In this particular case, the bank did the right thing initially, crediting the reporter’s account for the $2000. However, it reversed the amount four weeks later, sending a form letter with no explanation. In a followup call, the bank service rep told Mr. Lopez that he had not returned phone messages from bank investigators, so they concluded the disputed ATM withdrawals were "authorized and posted correctly."

Action Items
This type of bad publicity is entirely avoidable:

  1. Prevention: Your ATM system should not allow four $500 withdrawals in three days, unless the customer has a history of large cash withdrawals.
  2. Notification: All large ATM withdrawals should trigger alerts, first by email, then by phone if the withdrawals continue.
  3. Communications: Make sure you communicate the results of your ongoing investigation clearly to the customer. Customers should receive a stream of emails, letters, and phone calls keeping them apprised. If possible, all emails should be posted to the customer’s online banking account to create a paper trail.

    Most of the above steps are relatively expensive to implement if not supported by your current systems. So you might want to consider a fourth item:

  4. Flag reporter accounts: Treat reporters like VIPs, making sure their accounts are flagged, and that you bend over backwards to give them the benefit of the doubt when disputes arise.