Keep an eye on your money (and the bank that handles it)

BMO fell for a scam, forcing one of its customers to work through his illness

CALGARY, AB, Mar 22, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Imagine it! A cancer diagnosis brings bills that threaten to wreak havoc on your life. You need a few thousand extra dollars to buy medicine and fund your convalescence. Fortunately, you have planned ahead. You won’t have to pull out the plastic to pay bills because you’ve put enough money aside for this emergency.

As you head to the bank to transfer your emergency fund into your chequing account, you’re glad you’ve prepared for the unexpected. But there’s another surprise you didn’t bank on.

Your transaction doesn’t go through. Worse yet, the banker says that all the money you’ve squirrelled away for a rainy day is spent. To prove the point, she hands you a printed statement showing the dates and times your money left your account.

After you recover from that heart racing stab of panic, you inform your banker you haven’t touched a penny of your money. You’re sure that when she checks the facts, she’ll find that you never authorized any withdrawal. You expect them to fix the error and put the money back in your account within a few days. That’s what should happen, Right?

Sadly, as CBC recently reported, the experience of one ex-pat Canadian makes it clear that what should happen doesn’t always happen.

Bruce Taylor, a Canadian living in the United States, spent months sorting out a financial disaster created when his BMO investment advisor was convinced to hand over $87,555.00 he banked to cover emergencies to a scammer, who used Taylor’s email address to request a money transfer to a ‘cousin’ in Calgary. The cousin turned out to be another victim of the scammer, who was convinced to send the money to a fake boyfriend she’d met online in Malaysia.

After months of worry, Taylor has finally been reimbursed, but he was forced to keep working, even while he underwent radiation treatments, to pay for his meds.

It’s astonishing that a professional banker fell for a con like this. After all, there plenty of clues – misspelled words, grammatical mistakes no native English speaker would make – and these scams are so common it’s surprising that a person who handles money for a living wouldn’t catch on to the con. For goodness sakes, this con is even so common that there’s a blog dedicated to the sport of baiting scammers by pretending to fall for their ruse.

Worse yet, the BMO employee didn’t even bother to ask security questions that should have been asked before any money was transferred out of the account.

Now that Taylor has his money back, this horror story has a somewhat happy ending. Better yet, it ends with a lesson for us all:

Keep an eye on your money and the people with access to it!

  • Get to know your personal banker, and stay in touch with that person, especially if you are working or travelling out of the country.
  • Don’t leave your account dormant. Transferring even a small amount of money into the account regularly will make a scammer think twice about stealing from you.
  • Check your bank balances frequently. While you may not have time to check your account every day, make sure you check your bank balance a couple of times a week.
  • Immediately contact your bank to investigate any unusual activity or unexplained bank charges on your accounts.
  • Keep your financial information, including bank account numbers and the email address you use to do personal business, private. Get a free webmail address to use for social media or online purchases.

I’m glad Mr. Taylor finally got his money back. I’d be even happier if his story helped protect you from a similar ordeal.

The lesson in a nutshell: Keep an eye on your cash and the people who handle it.

Jane Harris-Zsovan offers her readers practical money advice for the real world.

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