WaMu Doesn't Understand The Concept Of Fraud

Reader Todd says that WaMu issued him a provisional credit after he was ripped off by a fake online merchant, but reversed the credit because he didn’t supply the bank with “a product description, cancellation policy, and cancellation number.” He can’t get a cancellation number because the transaction was fraudulent (he never received the item he ordered.) No matter who he talks to, he can’t get WaMu to understand that he’s been ripped off.

We join Todd as he attempts to report the merchant…

I disputed the charge. However, the dispute didn’t go through until March 1st. That is because I spent several days trying to get through to WaMu’s debit dispute department. I waited on hold for a total of 8 hours, including one stretch of 4 hours. It wasn’t until I had a customer service supervisor sit on the line with me that I was able to get through to the dispute department.

Once I got through, I thought everything would be okay. They sent me a form out, which I immediately sent back. I can send you my copy of the letter I sent them if you would like. They issued me a provisional credit. Since I did not hear anything for three months, and the company is fraudulent and no longer exists, I thought the problem was over.

Yesterday, I returned home at 8 pm from vacation to find my checking account was in the negative. I never bounce checks, and was shocked. I looked my account online and found out the original charge had once again been placed on my account. I was freaking out, but when I called WaMu, they said that the debit dispute department did not open up until 7am Pacific time this morning.

I called back in at 9. I waited on hold for an hour before being dropped. Once again, I had to get a customer service supervisor to stay on the line with me, and this time, someone from disputes did pick up.

I asked why I hadn’t received any information on the charge or why it was being reinstated. I was told that a letter was sent to me on the May 30th, Saturday, the same day the charge was reinstated. I have not received this letter. I was also told that in order to receive credit, I would have to provide an item description, copy of the cancellation policy, and a cancellation number. I tried to explain that the charge was fraudulent, the company no longer existed, and that I had never received anything from the merchant. The debit dispute person, who was very rude, and kept interrupting me while I was talking, said they could not issue me a credit without a product description, cancellation policy, and cancellation number. How are you supposed to provide such things on a fraudulent charge?

I have called WaMu executive customer service and left a message for Rosie. However, I have been unable to reach her. I also sent out an executive carpet bomb, but have received many of the emails returned.

Todd, its time to get out the big guns. You’re going to need to file a formal complaint with WaMu’s regulator.

Here’s how you do that:

1) Contact WaMu with a formal complaint. You can do this in writing, or by email. Keep a copy of this complaint for your records.

2) Figure out which agency regulates your bank by calling or using FDIC’s Bank Find. We happen to know that Washington Mutual’s primary regulator is the Office of Thrift Supervision.

3) Write a formal complaint letter to the bank’s regulatory agency. Follow the FTC’s instructions for writing a complaint. This document also has the correct contact information for the various regulatory agencies. Keep a copy of this complaint for your records.

By filing a complaint, the regulating agency will investigate whether WaMu’s incompetance actually violated any banking regulations.

You should also file a complaint with your state’s attorney general about the scammy retailer that ripped you off. Keep a copy of this complaint for your records.

(Photo: stirwise )


Edit Your Comment

  1. Side note, I can’t stand WaMu’s recent ad campaign. Whoo hoo + ice cream colors?

  2. Preyfar says:

    Whenever I think of “Whoohoo” I think of another obnoxious, annoying ad campaign: Vonage.

  3. Ringl says:

    Stories like this make me want to take cookies to everyone I’ve ever dealt with at my local credit union. They’ll take off fees I’ve legitimately earned if I ask nice enough.

    Hmm…. maybe I should ask them to pay off my car.

  4. I_can_still_pitch says:

    The more I read Consumerist, the more I believe big banks do what my dad said – “They take your money and act like it’s their money.” I am so glad I use a local credit union. Sometimes I think stashing cash is a better option.

  5. Bagels says:

    Question: would this have been more easily resolved if it had been a credit transaction? More and more I use my debit card only as a ATM card to get cash, every other transaction I process as credit.

  6. MercuryPDX says:

    @thepictureradio: That’s the sound the bank execs make when the “debits before credits” flip happens at midnight, resulting in overdraft fees. ;)

  7. Invalid_User_Name says:

    I DO think stashing cash is the better option.

  8. ARPRINCE says:

    I think it’s more like BOO-HOO!!!

  9. elmo3 says:

    He bought online using his check card (“Yesterday, I returned home at 8 pm from vacation to find my checking account was in the negative.”).

    That he was wronged does not cancel out the stupidity of using a check card or Paypal from checking account to buy something online, especially from someone he doesn’t know.

    No sympathy here.

  10. ajc308 says:

    @Invalid_User_Name: What ever happened to burying the treasure and the old fashioned “X” marks the spot… much simpler way.

  11. johnva says:

    This is one of the main reason credit cards are better than debit cards – fraud handling procedures. Instead of just taking a temporary hit on their credit line while getting this sorted out, the OP has now had their account overdrafted.

    Another tip – don’t ever refer to something like this as a “dispute” when you talk to your bank. Some of the banks will take this to mean that it’s a dispute between you and the merchant based on a legitimate transaction. Always simply say “it’s a fraudulent charge” and leave it at that. Don’t give them any more information than they need to know, or they may try to concoct an excuse for why they shouldn’t have to reimburse you or try to make YOU sort it out with the fraudsters.

  12. libbybee says:

    This is why I love my credit union. Someone got our debit card number and charged about $100 to our account. One trip to the CU and we had the money back, the cards were canceled, and brand new cards were on the way without any fuss.

    Credit unions FTW!

  13. GenXCub says:


    Yay! It took a few posts, but I knew someone wouldn’t let me down and place the blame on the victim for daring to use his own money. Good job consumerist commenter…

  14. WaMu just started advertising in our area, despite no branch presence.

    The most annoying this to me is that the words “Washington” and “Mutual” ought to come out something like “Wha-Myoo”, but IIRC they say it “Wa-Moo” or something. People in the first 15 rows may be splashed.

  15. Lubbi says:

    forget WaMu and go straight to BBB

  16. @Ash78:

    People in the first 15 rows may be splashed.

    Very Cute.

  17. Orv says:

    @Ash78: Where do you live that pronounces ‘Washington’ with a ‘Wha’ sound? In my experience, people who live there (the state, that is) pronounce the first syllable like the word ‘wash’.

  18. brianala says:

    Make one up. How are they going to verify it, really?

  19. elmo3 says:

    @GenXCub: Did I not say he was wronged?

    I did.

    But he used the wrong tool, and it cut a finger off.

    Don’t blame the tool. Blame the guy who misuses it or who uses the wrong tool.

    Now, if the tool was badly made such that it broke during misues and caused damage, one can blame the tool–but that doesn’t change the fact that it was being misused and that some blame also resides on the guy who misused it.

    Use the right tool for the job. The world doesn’t owe you anything, and if you use the wrong tool, you suffer the consequences–even if the tool was made wrong and breaks, you still mis-used it.

    Sounds like GenXCub thinks the world owes him, no matter what he does or how he behaves. Fascinating.

  20. izallgood says:

    Sounds to me like you were talking to the wrong department. There is a difference between the fraud department and the disputes department. I suggest calling back and asking for their fraud department. The process should be similar to a dispute.

  21. Edge23 says:

    The original poster is indeed a moron for buying from a merchant without checking their validity. And also using his check card.

    Telling a fake merchant is pretty easy (Google the name, go to review sites etc…), but he bought because the deal was great.

    At the minimum, he should have an order confirmation, item description, price etc… – because he should have saved that or printed that from the website.

    Now Washington Mutual is asking for too much documentation that should not be required.

  22. Orv says:

    @elmo3: The problem is debit cards are being sold as working just like a credit card — i.e., they’re sold as being the same tool — but they actually have much weaker consumer protections. I think the underlying law is bad and they should have to carry the same protections as a credit card, since they work like one in most respects.

  23. Toast442 says:

    I had a similar problem with a Wamu credit card – a VOIP company was charging my card months after service was canceled, and I couldn’t get them to stop (most of the time, they wouldn’t even pick up the phone.)

    After numerous “supervisor” transfers and phone calls with Wamu the bottom line was sorry about your luck, you signed up for service (which I did), so only the merchant can stop the charges.

    So I figure I’ll just start a new business and repeatedly charge outrageous amounts to Wamu customers since there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing they can do about it.

    I ended up just eating the charges (it was about $100) when I canceled the card.

  24. ConsumerAdvocacy1010 says:

    @Lubbi: The BBB does nothing. I can assure you of that from over a dozen personal experiences.

    If it’s a bank, complain to the FDIC.

    If it’s a business, complain to the FTC.

    And then always contact your state attorney general or office of consumer affairs.

    The BBB is useless, especially if the companies do not care about their reputation. I mean honestly…except for people who may regularly (at least once a week) read the consumerist….how often to people check a company’s BBB rating before doing business with them? Most people only check out or contact the BBB if they have a problem. Think about it….

  25. ConsumerAdvocacy1010 says:

    @Lubbi: Did not mean that to be a personal attack. Sorry if I came off a bit too strong.


  26. Magamus says:

    That really sucks. This happened to me about 2 months ago. Someone got my card number and bought some building supplies from a company in Russia. Called up my bank, got to talk to someone real within 10 minutes, charges were reversed that same day within a half hour. I had made this call @ 5:15pm on a Friday. Money was back in my account by Saturday. Here is the real shocker (at least from what I read on the site, I’ve never had any trouble): this was with Bank of America.

  27. johnva says:

    @izallgood: Yep, a lot of people don’t quite understand that, in the eyes of the banks, a dispute is a totally different thing from a fraud complaint. They have a much stronger legal obligation to side with you in the case of fraud. But they have a financial incentive to not classify your complaint that way, if they think they can get away with it. That’s why I was saying you need to be very careful about how you word your complaint. Use the word “fraud” and not “dispute” to make sure they can’t conveniently “misinterpret” you.

  28. benh57 says:

    @brianala: Exactly. Just make up a number. Easily solved.

  29. geoffhazel says:

    @ConsumerAdvocacy1010: Agreed, the BBB isn’t very helpful. I had a dispute with a merchant, and complained to them. They forwarded it to him, he said “not going to budge one inch” and they said “he isn’t going to budge”. All I could do was say I was still unhappy with him. They record it for 36 months. They have no arbitration, no actual dispute resolution resources.

    I wasn’t unhappy I did it though, for one reason: I was able to document a verbal agreement by running it through the BBB. The merchant’s response never disputed my claim of what they promised, they simply said they weren’t going to do anything about it. Now I have that in writing.

  30. agency says:

    @Orv: Possession of the funds is a crucial part of the law. When you use a debit card, you lose possession of the funds immediately and it’s up to you to prove why you should get them back. When you use a credit card, it’s the bank that is out the money initially so the burden of proof falls on them to demonstrate you actually owe them the money. The law makes perfect sense. Just always use a credit card to buy your stuff.

  31. NoWin says:

    @johnva: Another tip – don’t ever refer to something like this as a “dispute” when you talk to your bank. Some of the banks will take this to mean that it’s a dispute between you and the merchant based on a legitimate transaction. Always simply say “it’s a fraudulent charge” and leave it at that. Don’t give them any more information than they need to know…

    A big +1 to you. Yes, saying it is “fradulent” is very different from “dispute”. (But don’t try using a fraud charge on a valid dispute, that just pisses off everybody, and not often to the consumers benefit…

  32. ellastar says:

    @Bagels: The only times I ever use my ATM card are at an ATM (rarely) or when my preferred credit card (cashback) isn’t accepted at a merchant (equally rarely).

    Otherwise, credit all the way. I’m a good consumer, and I don’t buy more than I can pay off.

  33. MelL says:

    Hey, I have an idea! How about we blame… *drum roll* the criminal! I know it is a radical idea, but if we work together, we can get the blame placed where it belongs, on those who commit the fraud.

    Who’s with me?

  34. FLConsumer says:

    @Orv: and Comcast/Sprint/Time Warner are selling “unlimited” internet service that’s obviously limited… Doesn’t mean the product actually delivers what’s promised. I agree that it SHOULD live up to its advertising, but businesses today don’t see the value in being honest.

    That said, this is one HUGE reason I only have a regular ATM card on my accounts and not a check card.

    I also agree that this needs to be handled by the bank’s fraud department instead of their dispute dept…might have better success there.

  35. arl84 says:

    There are a couple things I’m not clear about – Did the OP actually give this information to the fake merchant, or was it somehow stolen? If he gave it out, then yes, some blame should go to the victim, should have known better and all that.

    Either way, it sounds like you got mixed up in the disputes/fraud limbo that happens to customers sometimes. 90 days is always their deadline for provisional credits, if they’re outstanding after that long, they get reversed. But they are supposed to mail you a letter and/or call first(i believe it’s 10 business days in advance), which they didn’t.

    So I guess bad consumer, but bad bank too. They most likely violated some regulations and you should follow the advice here and file formal complaints.

  36. mythago says:

    What’s this “blame the criminal” nonsense? Where does that get us? Only by blaming the victim can we reassure ourselves that since we are so much smarter and would never, ever do anything the dumb victim did, that we are perfectly safe.

    Defensive attribution – if it were a Consumerist drinking game we’d all be dead of alcohol poisoning.

  37. lauy says:

    I can confirm that the need to provide product description and cancellation information is a check card merchant dispute requirement for Visa and Mastercard. If the claim is filed as fraud, then they don’t need this info. Typically they review the account for similar merchant activity, and if possible contact the merchant for the buyer info they have on file and/or a sales draft (if an in person purchase) to compare signatures.
    Now, without knowing the full story, if the OP has even done business with the merchant, it would be difficult to prove fraud, and the only possible recourse would be to file a merchant dispute. When the OP says a “fake online merchant”, that could mean he placed an order on a scam website and never got his order. In that case, it would not be fraud, but a merchant dispute. However, with that said, it would not be a cancellation dispute (as the info he was asked would indicate), but a merchandise not received dispute, where he would simply have to state what he ordered, when he was supposed to get it, and his attempts to resolve with the merchant.
    Again, without the full story from the OP, it’s hard to say; and, being someone that used to file disputes over the phone for people, customers often do not provide the “full story” (not directed at the OP, just a general comment). Luckily, most banks have switched to a scripted dispute system that makes it hard to get the dispute type wrong, but, it still can, and does happen…

  38. indy_kid says:

    1) The BBB is absolutely worthless. They have NO powers to force a resolution. All they do is report what the other party had to say; in my case, it would likely have been ruled libelous, and the BBB refused to remove the comment from their public files!

    2) No reason to cheat other WaMu customers when creating your own fraudulent business, but by all means, go after the bank officials!! Only then might they gain some empathy!

    3) If it’s a fraud complaint, and the bank asks for impossible documentation, create it! How are they going to be able to show that it’s fake? Just put, “This was all I could find; don’t know if it’s completely accurate or not (that might cover you against fraud claims against you, but probably not). Still, with SOME numbers, WaMu might just use those for their own silly rules and proceed with the refund.

    4) Drop WaMU. Send the Pres. a letter with just this:

    “Based on your company’s service, you’re fired.”

    I fired a doc who kept me waiting 3 1/2 hours in the waiting room, and did it loudly and in front of about 30 others patients! Got a round of applause for that! I guess the others waiting to see him didn’t realize that THEY are in charge, and can fire a doctor, just like any other service provider!

  39. jgirl says:

    My debit card was skimmed last year in Dec… logged onto my account to find about $500 in charges I didn’t make. I called WaMu right away and was told a provisional credit would be issued in 7 days. 7 days passed with no credit; called back and got a much better CSR that issued the credit ASAP. WaMu sent a letter, which I filled out and sent back as soon as I got it in… credit was restated as perm about 3 months later. Aside from having to make the second phone call, the experience was horrid but it sounds like I’m one of the fortunate ones…