How My Bank Account Was Compromised (And Depleted)

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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?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

20 Comments

  1. Woah. That’s scary. I’ve had this happen to a friend. Her, bank, however called her right away when the transaction was in a city that she usually doesn’t travel to and for amounts she doesn’t usually spend. I’m glad everything’s okay 🙂

  2. Ah, I worried about this a lot when I was in Guatemala. I’ve heard stories about how Guatemala is infamous for card cloning devices, with card readers and hidden cameras watching you enter your PIN. Hence, I made sure nobody saw my fingers in an ATM, and always checked my balance online. Thankfully, nothing happened.

    • There are similar scams pretty much everywhere, including in France, so I wasn’t too paranoid. But I really wonder how my card got compromised in Ottawa!

  3. It happened to my sister once, she had used a private ATM machine in a mall. There are a lot of scams with that kind of machines, it’s much much safer to withdraw money only from bank ATMs.

  4. My Visa has been compromised twice. In both cases, the bank reimbursed the sums stolen. The card itself wasn’t stolen – just the number. But, of course, the card had to be cancelled & a new one issued. What a pain to have to notify the various companies (i.e. my insurance company) re: automatic monthly withdrawals. My Visa has now been “red-flagged” re: any unusual activity. (One of the times it was stolen, someone went on a shopping spree in the U.S.)

    I also once received a call from the bank about my debit card. It hadn’t been compromised but two places where I frequently shop were being investigated re: unauthorized debit card use. (I never use my debit card for anything other than cash withdrawals.) Again, new card issued – promptly.

    I am very careful about using either card. “Protect your pin” – as they say…

    • Wow, twice!

      I never had any problem with my credit card so far *crossing fingers*. I was actually surprised to see a debit card could be “compromised”, I have barely used it in the past two months. The only times I used it were to withdraw money at my bank’s ATMs, to pay bills online and I made a purchase at IKEA. I believe that was my only Interac transaction!

  5. In all these anecdotes it is the bank that initiates the call. How does the bank pick up on the suspicious activity and bring it to our attention?? The answer of course is that their computers are programmed to detect and flag the sort of thing that indicates a bogus transaction. As a retired computer geek I think this sort of thing is clever.

  6. That’s so scary, glad to hear that you’ll be refunded though, what a huge relief! I wonder why they didn’t tell you what happened though, just as a heads up to prevent something like this from happening again.

  7. Ca fait peur !!! C’est dommage qu’ils ne veuillent pas préciser comment ça a été possible, au cas où ce serait une imprudence de part que tu n’aurais pas réalisé jusque là.
    Il y a quelques temps, j’ai vu un reportage français où un chercheur avait trouvé le moyen de fabriquer une petite machine qui pouvait copier les informations d’une carte bancaire et les restituer avec une fausse carte. J’imagine que si ce genre de machine est utilisé ici, les banques n’en mènent pas large. 🙁
    Désolée pour toi, j’espère que tu seras remboursée très vite !

  8. 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.

  9. 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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