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How My Bank Account Was Compromised (And Depleted)

Bank in Canada

On Mon­day after­noon, the phone rang. I picked up and heard two sec­onds of sta­tic, often a tell­tale sign of tele­mar­ket­ing. I’m not sure why I didn’t hang up the phone. I usu­ally do—we get a lot of tele­mar­ket­ing calls, and I have no patience for sales pitch at 2 p.m.

I braced myself for the “how are you today?” (another tell­tale sign of the begin­ning of a tele­mar­ket­ing script). But instead, a pre-recorded mes­sage started to play, say­ing that my bank account might have been com­pro­mised. I was invited to check my account activ­ity and call my bank if I noted any unau­tho­rized transactions.

I sud­denly remem­bered that Feng, who uses a dif­fer­ent bank, told me he had received a sim­i­lar mes­sage the pre­vi­ous day.

Since I was already online and not doing any­thing spe­cial, I logged into my bank account to make sure every­thing was okay.

It wasn’t. My check­ing account had been emptied.

I reviewed the trans­ac­tions, a very easy task con­sid­er­ing I don’t have much in my check­ing account and that I rarely use Interac. I had made a with­drawal down­town Ottawa a few days ear­lier, that was right. How­ever, the five sub­se­quent with­drawals made just a few hours ear­lier that day weren’t mine. They were all strange amounts: $204.51, $108.32… not the kind of amounts you can with­draw at the ATM. And I def­i­nitely hadn’t used my card that day.

I called Sco­tia­bank to sort this out, and was told to go to my branch in person.

Half an hour later, I showed up at the cus­tomer ser­vice counter. “I received a mes­sage from you say­ing my account had been com­pro­mised…” I started to say. “That’s fine, you can just change your PIN to be on the safe side.” “No, but my account was com­pro­mised,” I explained. “The lat­est trans­ac­tions on the account aren’t mine.”

This changed every­thing. After I swore that I was in pos­ses­sion of my debit card (yep, in my wal­let) and that the PIN wasn’t writ­ten on a post-it stuck on the card (this is appar­ently more com­mon than you’d think), I was given a brand new debit card. “The trans­ac­tions will be inves­ti­gated,” explained the employee, “but don’t worry, the money will be returned to you in a week or two.”

While this is a pain, I’m glad that the bank took me seri­ously and that get­ting the money back shouldn’t be a problem.

How­ever, it bugged me that the employee wouldn’t tell me what had hap­pened. I have no idea how my account was com­pro­mised, and I wish I knew. I barely use debit and I usu­ally mon­i­tor my account closely. For Sco­tia­bank to send recorded mes­sages to cus­tomers, the prob­lem must be wide­spread, right? Oth­er­wise, an actual employee would have called directly if there was some sus­pi­cious activ­ity on my account only. Funny too that Feng, who banks with CIBC, had received a sim­i­lar mes­sage the day before (no issue on his account, though). The bank told me the with­drawals made with my card had prob­a­bly been made at the counter, and that they’d check the secu­rity cam­eras. But they couldn’t dis­close more “for secu­rity reasons.”

Morale of the story? Some­times it pays off to lis­ten to pre-recorded mes­sages. And to check your bank account often. I’m not sure it would have been that easy to dis­pute the trans­ac­tions a week or two after they were made, if I hadn’t noticed right away.

Have your bank account ever been compromised?


  1. I’m sur­prised they used a pre-recorded mes­sage because that’s how a lot of scams hap­pen. But sorry you had your account com­pro­mised, but yes, it is good that you’re get­ting your money back.

    I’ve had a few expe­ri­ences of shop­ping at places where they skimmed the debit cards and dis­cov­er­ing later that my bank blocked my card. Of course they don’t say who was doing the skim­ming, which is frustrating.

  2. I’m per­plexed for the oppo­site rea­son as your­self: my bank accounts (plural indi­cat­ing over the years) have never once been com­pro­mised. Per­haps not so per­plex­ing unless you take the fol­low­ing into account:

    - We’re talk­ing 27 years, since 1985 when I got my first debit card

    - I have been using the exact same pass­word that entire time (yes really), and

    - I use my debit card for prac­ti­cally *every­thing*… 4–5 times in one day is not an unusual occurence.

    And yes I do know I’ve been incred­i­bly lucky :)

    • This is good actually!

      I’ve been pretty lucky so far, and I guess con­sumers are bound to run into issues like these once in a while. It was solved promptly so no big deal really.

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