Channel 4 investigates: Victims say bank ignored 'Fraud Alerts'

Victims of purse theft ring report theft to bank, crooks still get money

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Channel 4 has been investigating a purse theft for weeks.  The crimes all happen in a very similar way.  More than a dozen victims say they left their purses hidden inside their vehicles as they went into places like gyms and day care centers.  When they return, they find their windows smashed and their purses gone.

The victims say they immediately called their banks to report their debit card and credit cards stolen and were told or led to believe that "Fraud Alerts" were put on their accounts to prevent crooks from stealing their money.  But in some of those cases, the victims tell us those alerts were ignored by some tellers.

Erica says she immediately called Wells Fargo when her purse was stolen out of her vehicle while she was working out at the Bailey's Gym on San Jose Boulevard.

"They told me that holds would be placed on my account and issued me a temporary debit card and I could just go about my day," explained Erica.

She thought her money would be safe, since her bank knew about the theft.

"About two days later, I tried to use my debit card and it didn't work.  Went to the ATM and I saw that $3,800 had been taken out," she said.

Erica says she didn't understand how anyone could make two large withdrawals from her account in the amount of $1,900 each, when she says she had put "Fraud Alerts" on her account.

"That was so frustrating, I can't even tell you, especially in the amount of $3,800. I kept thinking I'm (my money is) safe," explained Erica.

The same thing happened to Katie.  Her car was broken into while parked at the LA Fitness on Blanding Boulevard.

"They were going to cancel my card and put a Fraud Alert on my account so no one could tap into that account," said Katie.

But just like Erica, those alerts didn't work.  Four checks, $1,900 each, were cashed and withdrawn from Katie's Wells Fargo account through the drive-thru.

Police say the ring of thieves are stealing purses, dressing up as the women pictured in the stolen driver's licenses and then tricking bank tellers into giving them cash from their accounts. 

"We put security passwords on my account.  They put something saying ‘no transactions' through the drive-thru," said Katie.

Even when Katie says she closed her account and opened new ones twice at Wells Fargo, she says tellers still allowed thousands of dollars to be withdrawn.

"None of the signatures on the deposit slip they signed matched," said Katie. "How hard is it to ask for a password? You put all these security measures in place, thinking your money's safe." 

Katie had a negative $11,000 balance.

Kathy Harrison, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, admits some mistakes were made by the bank.

"Obviously there were," Harrison responded. "Anytime you have human beings that are processing and handling accounts, sometimes mistakes are going to be made.  We don't make very many, thank goodness."  She goes on to say, they (the crooks) have your valid ID so unfortunately even though they do not have your account number, they have your driver's license so they are able to transact business." 

It's the reason it is so hard for bank tellers to know the person at the drive-thru withdrawing money from their account is actually a thief since they are using a valid, but stolen driver's license. 

Channel 4 asked Harrison what Wells Fargo was going to do to prevent this from happening again.

"We're going back to our stores' teams, our bank tellers and banks in the stores, and reminding them of the training that they have," said Harrison. 

Harrison says any Wells Fargo customer who reports identity theft right away, will get their money returned.  Both Erica and Katie did eventually get their money back.

Here's what Wells Fargo says you need to do if your purse or wallet is ever stolen, regardless of where you bank:

If it's after hours, call your bank and be very specific about WHAT was stolen.

"The most important thing to do is not just reporting that your debit card or checks have been stolen, but let whoever you speak to at any institution know that your entire purse or wallet has been stolen," said Harrison.

Wells Fargo says you need to also close your account and any accounts linked to it.

Don't stop there.  You should go into a branch as soon as you can and tell someone face-to-face three things:

  1. "I believe I am going to be the victim of identity theft."
  2. "Do not allow anyone access to my accounts without providing a password first."
  3. "I do not want anyone to be able to access my account through the drive-thru, since my driver's license has been stolen."

Channel 4 spoke with another woman who does not want to give her name, like other women we've interviewed, they are still nervous since the thieves have not been caught.  She told us her purse was stolen out of her car while she was at Mills Fields in Julington Creek on February 18.  She had her checkbook, bank card and driver's license stolen in her purse. 

This woman says she called Compass bank and canceled her cards and checks and was told her account would be frozen to prevent anyone from withdrawing money and she was given a new pin number.  Yet, she says within a few days, four checks in the amount of $1,900 each were cashed out of her account at the bank's drive-thru. 

The woman closed her account and then opened a new one, thinking that would stop any more money from being withdrawn from her account, but says, again, a crook using her stolen driver's license pretended to be her and was able to withdraw $1,600 dollars from her account. 

She says she asked the Compass Branch in Ponte Vedra Beach to put another alert on her account to prevent any drive-thru transactions, but was told that could not be done.  She says she then called the branch in Jacksonville Beach where she was told by a branch manager that such an alert could be put on her account.  She says she was eventually reimbursed the stolen money, but says she intends to switch banks.

Compass spokesperson, Ralph Evans, said he as too busy discuss Compass bank apparenting ignoring fraud alerts on the woman's account, but he sent us this statement in an email:

"BBVA Compass tracks known criminal activity that may impact the bank and its customers and actively works with law enforcement at all levels. Our fraud, security and operations teams are especially aware of the activities of the Felony Lane Gang, and we employ processes and systems designed to actively detect and monitor for potential fraud activity.

"Regarding the particular customer situation referenced in your voicemail, we do not comment on individual customer matters."