WaMu's Inability To Mail Letters Costs Man $3,400

Wamu’s fraud department has a problem sending letters. Just like another reader, Kristin, we posted about, Rob is having trouble disputing fraudulent charges on his account. He followed their every instruction, except to respond to the second letter WaMu sent out. How could Rob do such a foolish thing? Because it never showed up in his mailbox, a point, WaMu seems to think, is owing to, not their incompetence, but Rob’s general lassitude and weakness of character. Or something like that. Here’s Rob’s story…

In March of 2008, I used a debit card on an online poker site, which happened to be a foreign vendor. I know it wasn’t wise, but I did. I had no issues at all with site, until I made a withdrawal in mid-April. A few days after that withdrawal I spotted several large charges pending on my WAMU debit card account that I did NOT authorize. The poker site used a foreign third party card authorizer and apparently they decided to have some fun with my card. I contacted the poker site and informed them of the problem, and they refused to do anything for me. The third party does not even have a contact phone number. I then called WAMU before the charges could even post, and was told that I would have to wait until they posted before the dispute could be done. After all was said and done, 15 unauthorized charges totaling $3,400 hit my account. I canceled that debit card, filed the dispute and was given a provisional credit within 5 days.

The following week, I received a letter from WAMU stating that I needed to contact them about what documentation they needed in order to pursue the dispute. That’s all it said. I called on April 29th and spoke to a CSR about what I needed to send the fraud claims department. She told me that all I needed to send was a written and signed affidavit detailing what had happened and what I had done to remedy the situation. I did exactly that and faxed it to them that same day.

I hadn’t heard anything for about a month and called the claims department. After waiting on hold for over half an hour, I was told that they had no new information.

Two more months go by. I received a letter from WAMU stating that I had not provided them with enough documentation to pursue the claim, and they reversed the provisional credit. I called them immediately and after being on hold for 45 minutes this time I spoke to another CSR, and then a manager. I was informed that they sent out a letter on April 30th, the day after I faxed my affidavit, which said I still needed more documentation. That second letter magically never arrived. They told me that it was too late and they would deny me the ability to fight these charges with the vendor. I explained to them over and over again about how I did exactly what was asked of me, and did NOT receive the second letter. Finally to get me off the phone, the manager suggested I submit a re-assertion letter to get the claim reopened, along with any documentation I could provide. There wasn’t a lot of documentation to provide, since it’s kind of hard to prove you didn’t authorize a charge online. I provided them with copies of emails to the poker site and the third party vendor demanding they credit the unauthorized charges.

Three weeks later, I am told that again they will not pursue the claim. The CSR is extremely rude to me and almost seems to gloat about me being screwed. She said, “You didn’t send in enough documentation within the prescribed deadline. Now you’ve sent in the documentation, but it’s still past the deadline.” Too bad…so sorry. I was told that I should have read the important information on the back of their notices (one of which I didn’t receive) informing me of the deadline.

Now I’m not stupid. I realize that WAMU is pre-judging me based on the fact that I dealt with an online poker site. But I believe they are breaking my rights by not even pursuing this dispute. All I’m asking is that they continue on to MasterCard and file the dispute with the vendor. I’m not asking for any provisional credit. If they would actually let this claim continue, the burden would be on the vendor to provide documentation. The vendor can not have any documentation, since I did NOT authorize the charges. I’m only asking that they follow the law. They have gotten around this by failing to send me a second notice, and never actually providing me a list of sufficient documentation on the first notice. Because of that, I missed the deadline.

I filed a claim with the Better Business Bureau. A CSR from WAMU called and left a message on my cell phone in a very haughty tone, saying that they were aware of the complaint I had made, and that they were so sorry, but I missed the deadline. They suggested I sue the vendor.

They know I can’t file a lawsuit against the vendors, since they are not in the U.S.

I plan on contacting the Office of Thrift Services, but do they actually have any clout in this matter?

Sincerely,

Rob K

OTS is WaMu’s bank regulator, so yes, they do have clout. You can also try contacting their executive customer service team. Then, after you get your money back, switch banks.

Then, next time you want to play poker, consider a friendly game with your buddies. As your letter states, online gambling doesn’t attract the most savory of business people. If you do have to scratch the itch, at least use a credit card, not a debit card. That way, if the account gets hijacked, it’s the bank out the cash and not you.

We asked WaMu whether this was standard policy or if their letter-sending facility is having an error, and await their response.

(Photo: Getty)

UPDATE: 9/02/08: In response to our email inquiry, WaMu has said they’re interested in checking out this story.

Comments

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  1. dragonfire81 says:

    Wow, that’s really sucky but not surprising. Companies that do customer service like this have a tendency to take a “customer is guilty until proven innocent” standpoint.

    Is it possible to go directly to VISA or Mastercard on this, since I’m assuming the card is branded with one of those logos?

    If not, get a lawyer involved. For $3 400, it’s worth it.

    • NoWin says:

      @dragonfire81: Is it possible to go directly to VISA or Mastercard on this, since I’m assuming the card is branded with one of those logos?

      One could try, but the crux is the use of a “debit” card. Visa/MC are basically out of the responsible loop with a debit card. It’s the customer vs his/her bank at that point.

      The debit card rules & regs are vastly different in scope (although “seemingly” similar to credit cards) on how a bank will handle fraudulent use, and what is required, and the time-lines.

      REPEAT: debit cards are NOT credit cards.
      REPEAT: debit cards are like cash. If it’s misused or fraudulently used, YOU (and not the bank) need to do the EXTRA due-diligence paperwork to recover the funds.

      The OP may need some luck on this one at this point, not withstanding WaMu’s poor documention provisions to him.

  2. Shudder… I have a WaMu card. Thank god it’s cut up and I’m just paying off the balance with 0% interest.

    I can’t see how the OP could of done more? I’ve never had to dispute or report fraudulent use of my cards, but I’d like to know what other “documentation” they required. I’d be quick to ask “So, what documentation were you missing to begin with, that I didn’t already send?”

    “I hadn’t heard anything for about a month and called the claims department. After waiting on hold for over half an hour, I was told that they had no new information.”

    Did you call with your cell phone? Or have any records that you made that call? They should’ve said “We are waiting for you to complete the documentation request we sent”

    What a crappy situation! If I were out $3400, I’D BE BROKE. Not cool, WaMu.

  3. Trick says:

    WaMu appears to be making out quite well when fraud occurs. They spend less on security so accounts are compromised. They make sending a rebate in look easy then with their so-called paperwork then recoup their losses by taking it from their customers.

    At this rate they all the money lost in the mortgage unit will be re-covered by the fraud department…

  4. lrbreckenripple says:

    I’ll “bet” you none of this would have happened if he hadn’t made the WISE choice of giving his account information to a foreign gambling site. Ask the Devil to dance and he might say yes.

  5. lolababy says:

    I actually lucked out on the “We sent you notice, you should have known” department.

    My complaint was that I had not been sent notice, but obviously, I had no proof. But then I got the relevant letter in the mail from WaMu. Oh, no. I thought. My case is moot.

    But then I checked the envelope. It was postmarked 10 days after the relevant deadline had passed. Watch your mail like a hawk. Keep. Everything. You WILL be asked to supply it, if need be.

  6. Pro-Pain says:

    They probably never even sent the letter. These banks shitty customer service and the level of fraud out there are totally out of control. I hope he get help. Try to keep debit card use to an absolute minimum. This will help from becoming a victim.

    • JiminyChristmas says:

      @Pro-Pain: The first part of your comment raises and interesting point. If the fraud victim here asked WaMu to prove they sent the letter…could they? I think this works both ways. If the OP is screwed because of a lack of ‘documentation’ it seems that might be equally true of WaMu. After all, if we’re not taking anyone’s word for anything, why should the bank get the benefit of the doubt?

      Another thought: Would it help to file a police report? Granted, they probably couldn’t do anything at this point but it seems an actual police report might carry a little more weight than just a signed statement.

      • macinjosh says:

        @JiminyChristmas:

        “If the fraud victim here asked WaMu to prove they sent the letter…could they? I think this works both ways. If the OP is screwed because of a lack of ‘documentation’ it seems that might be equally true of WaMu.”

        I guess other than some sort of suit, there’s nothing that would force Wamu to provide proof. The company has the power. :( (Just like we always talk about charging (that is, withholding) fees to the cable company or somesuch)

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      I know someone who just had something similar happen with Wachovia. They claimed they sent her a document regarding fraudulent charges on her account and it never got to her. I’m beginning to think Pro-Pain is right and these banks never send the document just so that they can claim that the customer is the one who messed up.

  7. Pro-Pain says:

    I would also like to add that “winning a dispute” is becoming harder and harder to the point that banks are just letting you stay “ripped off”, I’m looking @ you CitiCards. They were useless in two seperate disputes that were well documented and should have “adjusted” in our favor. I don’t trust banks anymore period. They look at us as a potential thief, not a customer. Sad, but true.

    • oneandone says:

      @Pro-Pain: I don’t trust the fraud depts either – and I’m looking at Citicards also. Slightly related story: I just moved to a new city, after a few months of travel abroad and not using the credit card. So I went from no credit card use to a few weeks of lots and lots of transactions at places I’ve never shopped before. I was expecting some flags to go up and maybe a fraud inquiry.

      Instead, they called to raise my credit limit. Nice. Except 2 days later I get a letter from the fraud dept (mailed about a week before) saying I should call them IMMEDIATELY because of suspicion of fraudulent use. So nice of you citicards – raising my limit when you think someone is running wild with my credit. And great that some depts get phones while others only have paper and envelopes.

      When I did talk to the fraud dept, they also helpfully told me that even though they were suspicious of the activity, they never cut the card off because each transaction was under $100. Never mind that I had racked up quite a balance.

      Lessons I learned: don’t trust CCC (or their associated banks…) to protect you from fraud, and if you keep your charges in the double digits, you can use someone else’s card for a while until the company takes action. I know this is kind of a non-story, but it reminds me to stay alert.

  8. laserjobs says:

    Take them to small claims court and have the summons served to one of their ATMs. See how they like it.

  9. Karl says:

    I would contact MasterCard, since they have a zero-liability policy that their member banks must follow.

    You could also try small claims court, depending on whether $3400 exceeds the small claims threshold or not where you live.

    • lolababy says:

      @Karl: about MasterCard, is that written anywhere on the internet? I mean to say, does MasterCard mention that somewhere on their site, and what to do if the member banks are in violation?

  10. howie_in_az says:

    In the future the OP may want to consider a prepaid VISA card. Load it up with some funds and play online poker to your heart’s content. One could even get a few prepaid VISA gift cards and use those so the number will change every month (or week… or day, depending on your addiction). Not only will it prevent things like this from occurring, but it also keeps one in check so they don’t blow $3400 (or more) gambling.

  11. Subliminal0182 says:

    File a complaint with the FDIC: [www4.fdic.gov]

    It may not be deposit insurance related, but believe me, when the FDIC gets involved, they’ll bend over backwards to help you (had a friend’s $120 overdraft fees waived by the vice president of the region).

  12. starrion says:

    Perhaps what we are seeing is that WaMu sabotages customers attempts to dispute charges by making the process difficult. Didn’t get the documentation we sent? Too bad. Moved during the process? Too bad.

    After all, Wachovia was knowingly aiding and abetting known fraudsters because it was profitable. Perhaps Wamu is just exploring different means of profit enhancement.

  13. BrendaNerq says:

    Per Reg E, the bank MUST issue you a credit for fraudulent transactions that have happened in the past 2 years. Even if they cannot charge the transactions back (more that 120 days after the transaction date) They MUST give you the money back. That is, of course, unless they can prove the charges are valid (meaning you participated). I would suggest contacting the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) as well as your state banking commission. I would also try to get in touch with the “Executive Office” at WaMu (for escalated complaints). I hope this helps.

  14. D-Bo says:

    I am never surprised about WaMu stories ending like this. I left them for a CC years ago after a branch manager was extremely rude to me and my complaint to his boss fielded a form letter that didn’t even address my specific issues.

  15. Joe S Chmo says:

    I don’t know what deadline WAMU is talking about. The OP met all the requirements by notifying the bank w/in 60 days of the statement date. It sounds like WAMU did not want to have to write this off and decided to stick it to the customer. Don’t let up on the executive customer service team, they owe you.

  16. stpauliegirl says:

    Rob may also want to consider filing complaints with his state Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Comptroller of Currency. I’ve seen firsthand that AGOs sometimes get taken a bit more seriously than the BBB, and the OCC would also be interested because of the amount of money involved. Best of luck, Rob!! Don’t let WaMu get away with this!

    [www.occ.treas.gov]

  17. CharlesjP says:

    I play online poker as well and would like to know which site it was. :D

  18. scoopjones says:

    I was under the impression that it was illegal for U.S. residents to play these sites. Anyone know any differently?

  19. Okay, this former identity theft victim is going to share my secret of success.

    Get a fax number.

    Fax your ENTIRE file to that number each and every time you have any contact whatsoever with the lender/bank/credit card company.

    I had a business credit card number go *missing* through a huge security breach at a major hosting company a few years ago.

    Six or so months after the data breach, there was more than $5000 in unauthorized charges for “internet services” in various foreign companies.

    I notified the bank, pursued refunds where I could, and sat back to let the fraud department do it’s job.

    WAY WRONG ANSWER.

    Soon, letters eerily reminiscent of the OP’s contacts began to arrive. “Because you have not submitted the appropriate documents, YOU owe the $5000″.

    I’d call. They’d stall. “Oh,” honeychile operator would say, “don’t worry about that; it’s a mistake.”

    Uh-huh. I don’t think so. Their “mistake” was time ticking into my ability to dispute the charges.

    So I started doing something proactive. EVERY time I received a single bit of correspondence about the case, I faxed my ENTIRE file (proving that yes, I had answered the earlier demands for documentation) to the fraud department.

    Only took two weeks before they cried “Pax!” and wrote off the bad charges.

    Fax machines can be your FRIEND.

  20. zsta2k7 says:

    It is not illegal to play on the sites.

    It IS illegal for payment processors to process payments to these sites under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act

    In other words, go after the 3rd party processor if it’s US based.

    [www.playwinningpoker.com]

  21. johnva says:

    The only advice that we can give beyond this is not to use debit cards, especially on iffy websites. They don’t have the same protection against fraud that credit cards do, and it shows. It would appear that some of these banks are abusing the looser regulations on debit cards to get out of paying for fraud claims.

  22. pigbearpug says:

    Oh man, what a shitty situation. I got drunk in DC and left my debit card in an ATM while it was asking if I wanted another transaction. Some homeless guy came up behind me and took out $400. I spotted it 2 days later and Suntrust gave it all back, including the out of network ATM fee.

    I am not in any way blaming the OP, but as soon as you spot it, PURSUE THE FUCK OUT OF THE FRAUDULANT TRANSACTION. After all, it was my fault I left it there, but since it was handled expediently, they took care of it.

  23. wrekxx says:

    Hi guys, I work in the consumer credit fraud department for a major financial institution. I just want to let you know that online gambling is against the terms of service for most major credit cards. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is also against the TOS for you debit card as well. These situations are the exact reason why.

    • @wrekxx: That’s what I figured.. all of my friends who use online poker/gambling sites these days can’t even use their US based cards and have to do stuff via Western Union. Personally I thought those turkeys in Washington, DC banned it not too long ago?

  24. Post like this make me want to record every customer service call. So you have proof of your statements.Used to be companies would give the customer the benefit of doubt

  25. hallam says:

    What you need to do here is to send a registered letter stating that you will begin proceedings in small claims court unless the sum is refunded within 14 days.

    Prominently state that you are aware that under Regulation E of the federal reserve banking regulations you are not liable for any claim that is challenged in writing within the specified period, that the challenge was made and that under regulation E you are not responsible for this loss unless WaMu can provide proof that the charge was authorized.

    Since the burden of proof is on WaMu their demand for more information is irrelevant.

    CC the local AG and the Federal Reserve.

  26. wrekxx says:

    @rainmakr If i undersytand correctly it is not technically banned due to intense lobbying for it but ot is restricted and we (America) are fined 2 billion a year by the WTO because of it.

  27. BoomhauerTX says:

    Common misconception that Debit cards have the same consumer protection as credit cards because of the little VISA logo. Always use a CREDIT CARD online as they have consumer protection and charge back authority to the vendors.

  28. harlock_JDS says:

    I don’t think small claims court is going to help much since the OP knew he was dealing with someone operating illegally (since they can not possess payments from Americans).

    This is kinda like giving your drug dealer your credit card info and finding out he went out and charged extra money. You deal with people operating illegally you shouldn’t be shocked if they do something illegal with your money too.

    The bank can claim he didn’t take ‘reasonable protection’ with his CC info.

  29. quail says:

    Related, but just: I once worked the mail room for a Savings & Loan during the S&L crisis of the 80s. One of our many tasks was to get the statements out in a timely fashion. The problem was the department was a joke. A guy who should have been fired for incompetence never was. He’d constantly claim that the envelope stuffing machine wasn’t working and statements and bills would leave days and weeks later than they should have. And he’d constantly leave important packages in the company car on his trips to the post office. These would be found the next day by me or an exec needing one of the cars for the day.

    Every time I read about mail not getting to where it should go I think about some drug addicted guy in the mail room not doing his job.

  30. mariospants says:

    I CANNOT believe that anyone would willing give banking information to a gambling site… oh wait, was that part of the “gamble”? FOLKS: if you’re going to be purchasing porn subscriptions, software, games etc. online, get yourself a separate card with an extremely small limit (such as $500-$1000) and use that ONLY for online purchases. That way, even if you can’t get restitution, chargeback or help cancelling a suspect transaction, you’re only out one carpayment or so.

  31. trujunglist says:

    I’m not sure why Wamu couldn’t have emailed forms, responses, or faxed them to him. There is no excuse for this. When contacting WaMu, I actually would have requested the letters to be e-mailed, as the postal service is great but can be unreliable. I would have certainly made sure that I was in the clear for $3,400. I would’ve been on the phone with them constantly. Then again, losing that much money would mean that I’d be completely broke, lose my apartment, default on all bills.. etc.
    This would save money for WaMu… Oh wait, they’re saving money by not paying out his claim! Nevermind, keep on keepin’ on WaMu.

  32. Vhalkyrie says:

    My Wamu debit card was fraudulently used to pay for someone’s Sprint bill. I haven’t been a Sprint customer in over 6 years. Wamu gave me the provisional credit right away, but also reversed it saying they never received my signed letter. Never thought I’d need delivery confirmation for it. Sigh. They wouldn’t let me fill out another form either, as it was ‘past the deadline’. I just gave up on it, transferred my money to another bank, and closed my accounts.

  33. ExtraCelestial says:

    I’m glad I read this. I’m going through something similar with Wamu credit card. Over $2300 in fraudulent charges for Mexican food in a three period. Over 15 transactions in one day. Sigh. They were mad bitchy with me when I complained too. What exactly is it that Wamu’s fraud department do other than sneer at customers and ignore documentation? I got the letter a couple days ago, I will most definitely be sending it certified.

  34. JamesKabobulator says:

    Sorry, but two things about this story make me think that there’s
    more to know.

    First, if this man had gotten an actual affidavit he would know that
    you cannot fax or copy them. An affidavit is written testimony that
    is signed in the presence of a notary public. The notary public is
    licensed to affirm that the right person with valid ID signed the
    testimony while the notary watched. The notary seals the paper with a
    special device that looks like a big pair of pliers. This seal is a
    clamp that crimps the paper to mark it. You might have seen one your
    wedding license or high school diploma. This mark has no color but
    still might faintly show up on a fax or a copy. Even if it was plain
    as day, you still couldn’t send an affidavit by fax or send a copy of
    it. It’s because the affidavit must bear the actual imprint of the seal.

    So, no, I don’t think he understood what an affidavit is when he “did
    exactly that and faxed it to them that same day.” Lesson, if you
    don’t know what some word means, ask. If you think that might make
    you look dumb, think of why it might really make you look smart,
    smart enough to ask.

    Even so, when you fax an important document follow up with a phone
    call. Ask if they got it and if it’s what they need.

    If the bank says they will give you a provisional credit, that means
    it is a temporary credit until they can determine if fraud has been
    committed. If you spend the money, you will owe the bank that amount
    if the fraud cannot be investigated.

    Perhaps after he got the money he forgot, or forgot to ask, what
    provisional meant. If instead, he had called after a week or so he’d
    remind the bank that he was waiting to find out whether the money was
    his to keep.

    If you have a problem with your credit card and want to protest
    charges, call the credit card company. You have the right to protest
    any charges that occur further than 100 miles from your home. They
    will investigate the fraud for you and probably want an affidavit
    like the bank did. So why put anyone between you and the company
    that’s responsible. Especially if that company has something to lose.
    Why? They need to be secure and safe and don’t want their name
    associated with fraud. Best case, they issue a credit for your loss
    and then deny that vendor the right to take charges anymore. Like
    getting ice cream on your pie.

    Finally, use your own good common sense, especially on the internet,
    whether you’re buying, blogging, or blabbing. An excellent tool to
    use is called WhoIs. On that web site you type the URL of the website
    you want to know more about, like http://www.phonycheat.com. They will tell
    you where the company is registered and who owns it. If you see it’s
    owned by Evil B We, Inc. in Iceland, think twice, and keep thinking
    until you forget about them.

    No, this comment isn’t another story about how bad and tough the
    world is. And it really is bad and tough. It’s gotten me good a
    couple times. Everybody gets assaulted by it sometime. Just don’t be
    a victim. Being a victim is no use to anybody, least of all yourself.
    Get smarter and help others instead of reliving what’s past and
    beyond your power.

    Also don’t lie to yourself or your spouse about how it happened. If
    you spent a lot on clothes or partying and you remain responsible and
    avoid problems, you’ll never have have shame or fear make you pretend
    to yourself or your spouse or anyone else that the dog did it or the
    pressures of your job or the clerk or the bartender or the bank or
    some faceless corporate giant or the government or a gaming house
    overseas.