NYT: Banks Enable Fraudsters to Take Advantage of Consumers

Thursday, 13 Jun 2013 08:20 AM

By Dan Weil

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One of the most common ways for scam artists to take advantage of their marks — older individuals in particular — is to trick them into divulging their bank account numbers.

And many banks are doing little to combat the criminal activity, The New York Times reports.

Once the fraudster has the bank account information, they clean out the victim's account, of course.

Editor’s Note:
Put the World’s Top Financial Minds to Work for You


The Times conducted a review of 140-year-old Zions Bank of Salt Lake City and First Bank of Delaware. The latter reached a $15 million settlement with the Justice Department after being accused of allowing merchants to illegally debit accounts more than 2 million times for a total of $100 million.

"The documents, as well as interviews with state and federal officials, paint a troubling picture," The Times notes.

"They outline how banks profit handsomely by collecting fees while ignoring warnings of potential fraud and, in some instances, enabling dubious merchants to prey on consumers."

The problem arises when banks have a banking relationship with intermediaries. In these situations, the intermediaries' merchant customers debit the consumers' accounts and pay the intermediary a fee for processing the transaction. The intermediary then gives its bank a cut of the fee.

Even though banks might realize there is a disproportionate number of disputed transactions from a particular intermediary, they will often not do anything. After all, they are getting a fee and when bank accounts run dry, they collect insufficient funds fees, The Times explains.

In addition, every time an unauthorized charge is flagged and the consumer demands money back, banks collect fees to process the return, according to The Times. And these fees are far greater than are the original fees they collect for processing the transaction in the first place.

As for Zions, it "takes seriously the need to prevent the banking system being used for fraudulent purposes," James Abbott, director of investor relations for the bank, told The Times. First Delaware declined to comment.

It's not just those two banks, the paper says. "Indeed, banks across the country, from some of the largest to smaller regional players, help facilitate billions of dollars of fraud each year, according to interviews with consumer lawyers and state and federal prosecutors."

This isn't the only issue for banks. Account overdrafts are another.

A report issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Tuesday stated that "overdraft programs can be costly for the consumers who use them, and both consumer outcomes and policies related to overdraft programs can vary considerably across banks."

Editor’s Note: Put the World’s Top Financial Minds to Work for You

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