Is HSBC Straining Under An "Unprecedented" Wave Of Fraud Activity?

If you’re an HSBC customer, check your account, as there may be a wave of fraudulent activity hitting your bank. Two days ago we wrote about the guy in the U.S. who discovered his account had been drained by someone in Bulgaria. Later that day we received an email from Emily in NYC who was having similar problems, only her fraud-buddy was in California and Canada making withdrawals on her account.
Emily’s fiancé wrote back to us today with an update, and according to Emily, the HBSC Fraud Investigator who spoke to her “said that their fraud department was so overwhelmed, it was ‘still in the developing stage of how we’re going to handle’ it. I asked if she knew how many customers were affected and she stated ‘We don’t even know.'”

First, here’s Emily’s original email from two days ago:

I am sitting here in amazement after reading your post “HSBC Won’t Tell You Someone in Bulgaria is Stealing $2,000 From You” because the exact same thing happened to me today, just substitute Pasadena and Canada for Bulgaria. I logged in to my personal internet banking this afternoon to review my account so that I could pay some bills. I noticed that my bank balance was about $3600 while my available balance was $300. There were no transactions listed after Friday, 2/15. I knew I had used my debit/atm card all weekend, all around Manhattan and Brooklyn. I called customer service and encountered, almost to a script, the same spiel as your reader from someone named “Dar”. There was some sort of hold, but he couldn’t get information about it. Eventually he found that there were two withdrawals of $500 each at a Wachovia bank that seemed suspicious. I confirmed that I had not made those withdrawals. He was not able to tell me what state the withdrawals were made in. I asked if the best thing to do would be to go to an HSBC ATM and take out the last $300 in my account, so that I wouldn’t lose that too- he agreed. So, I left work early to get to the ATM. Dar advised that because today is a national holiday in the US, none of this information would process in my account until at least 6 am Tuesday, but that I would not be able to file a fraud report until WEDNESDAY! He had no answer for me when I asked why I hadn’t been alerted to suspicious activity when my card had been used on opposite coasts and in ANOTHER COUNTRY all during the same weekend.

The ATM did not allow me to make any withdrawals. I tried various amounts from $300 down to $60 and each time got an error message that the “Amount Requested Exceeded the Limit”. I called customer service again and this time was luckily connected to someone named Maria (and I hate to say this, but Maria, unlike Dar, sounded like a native English speaker). Maria went through various fraudulent transactions- $800 withdrawal in Pasadena, $500 twice in Canada, another $62 in Pasadena, as well as $1000 in Santa Monica. She was able to process a fraud report today- interesting, since Dar said that couldn’t be done until Wednesday! My account will not be credited for 10-11 business days and I should receive a new card in 7-10 days. I also was able to immediately change my PIN. I was told that I would be able to withdraw the remaining amount from the branch tomorrow morning. (let’s hope).

And here’s the update sent in today, after Emily was finally able to get some more information from HSBC’s fraud department:

On Tuesday morning, I went to a local branch to get additional information and withdraw the remaining balance in my account. The associate at the local branch was helpful and contacted the fraud department on my behalf. Eventually I was provided with the name of the Fraud Investigator handling my case. I tried calling her several times on Tuesday afternoon, but kept getting voicemail. I left a voicemail around 5 pm. I attempted to call her again this morning. When I got voicemail, I dialed a random extension, to try to get to speak to a person (there is no operator). I did get someone in the Internet Banking department, who was kind enough to get me connected to someone in the fraud department (after both he and I waited on hold for about 30 minutes- no exaggeration). I was connected to someone named Ella _____, who said that she only dealt with Fraud in applications, so therefore she wouldn’t be able to help me. As I tried to explain the situation, Ms. _____ was hostile toward me and escalated the tone of the conversation unneccesarily. I attempted to deescalate the conversation by explaining that I was quite upset that almost my entire bank account had been drained, that I was having a very hard time reaching someone who could help me and that her tone was not exactly helpful. She was then able to connect me to the Investigator handling my case, Sharon _____.

Ms. _____ was kind and helpful and explained that the extent of this fraud was essentially unprecedented for HSBC. She said that their fraud department was so overwhelmed, it was “still in the developing stage of how we’re going to handle” it. I asked if she knew how many customers were affected and she stated “we don’t even know.” I asked if the magnitude of the fraud would delay the bank’s ability to get everyone’s account credited. She assured me that the bank’s first priority was to credit every affected customer within 10 days. She explained that the bank was “probably” going to forego its usual requirements of paperwork such as fraud affidavits for affected customers, because the fraud here was obvious.

Ms. _____ stated that HSBC was trying to contact its customers and would be sending a letter regarding the fraud, but that it was so widespread that it didn’t have the manpower to make a phone call to each affected customer, particularly where the focus was on trying to get the accounts credited. She advised that I monitor my account daily to check for the credit, because I would likely not receive notification from HSBC about it.

I’m appreciative of the information that I was able to receive today, and the reassurance that HSBC’s priority was to get accounts credited as quickly as possible. However, I am dumbfounded that it took me three days to get the “full story” from HSBC, due to no lack of effort on my part. I think that the media needs to be alerted of this fraud, as HSBC is not able to contact all of its customers. People may be affected and not even know it yet. I obviously plan to change banks after this debacle, but do want to see that this is made public.

(Thanks to Corey & Emily!)