I’ve written before about the rights you have when you have been the victim of identity theft, and here is another case that illustrates why consumer rights under the Electronic Fund Transfers Act are so important. Like many of my clients, Mrs. Dean was dependent on her child support funds to make ends meet. Her child support funds were transmitted to her by being deposited into a Go Program debit card account. They issue the “Way2Go” debit card, which is administered by Conduent with funds held at Comerica Bank.
Now, I’ve sued Comerica Bank several times, but usually in cases involving their Direct Express debit card, which is typically used by people who receive federal Social Security benefits. But the Way2Go card was new to me: I hadn’t even heard of it until Mrs. Dean came to my office and told me about it. But since it is a debit card, your rights when you’ve been the victim of identity theft are the same: if you dispute the unauthorized charges within 2 days of discovering the theft, then you cannot be held liable for more than $50 of unauthorized charges. Or sometimes even less than that. My client was very proactive. She telephoned the bank as soon as she discovered the unauthorized charges.
Unfortunately, however, the bank did not handle her dispute properly. Despite her repeated protests and the fact that the unauthorized withdrawal was very unusual and out-of-line with her normal spending habits, the bank just ignored her disputes. They had her fill out a fraud questionnaire, which she promptly did and returned to them. It didn’t help. They refused to refund her money. They didn’t even explain why.
Under the Electronic Fund Transfers Act, if you dispute an unauthorized charge, the bank has to refund your money within 10 days. If they can’t refund your money within 10 days, they have to provisionally recredit your account while they conduct their investigation. What does that mean? Basically, they have to put the money back into your account until they’ve made a final determination about your dispute. If they ultimately determine that no fraud occurred, they can take the disputed money back out of your account.
Well, in this case, they neither provisionally recredited her account nor returned the money. So we sued them in federal court for a full refund, treble damages (meaning three times the amount of money that was taken), plus court costs and attorneys’ fees.
Not only are we suing Comerica Bank for its wrongful denial of her disputes, but we also intend to obtain all the evidence we can about the unauthorized charges. See, if we can figure out who the identity thief was, then we can sue them for violating the Alabama Consumer Identity Protection Act. That is Alabama’s Identity Theft statute. It says that if you commit an act of identity theft, you are liable for whatever damages caused, or a minimum of $5,000 per act of identity theft plus costs and attorneys’ fees.
We are very confident that we can prove that the charges were indeed unauthorized, and we hope that we can discover the identity of her thief, so we can take legal action against them as well. I hate seeing thieves get away, and I’ve sued identity thieves before. I’ll keep ya’ll posted as to how this case turns out.