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WaMu Gave Grandma's Money to Crooks

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New York Times Reporting on ICT

The article appeared on May 21, 2007.

click here for more info

Thursday, March 30, 2006
how Client Care Relations works from the inside
I received this email yesterday from someone identifying himself or herself as an ex-CCR Employee. The portrait of Client Care Relations the anonymous emailer provides more or less accords with the one I've put together in working with them. What particularly galls me is the way Washington Mutual appears from its letter to cooperate with outfits like this.

In his letter, Andrew Samuel of Washington Mutual states, "The Forgery Department is very familiar with the different telemarketing companies, and knows which ones provide a recording of the verbal authorization." As the ex-CCR employee here notes, "This is not to say that people were not mislead off of the recordings... These recordings are played to the bank representatives if they call to inquire. They hear the customer’s authorization and some will not reverse transaction even if it is within 60 days.":

Google Maps: Strategic Commercial Solutions Headquarters

(As far as I can tell, not an empty lot.)

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Monday, March 27, 2006
WaMu's response to my letter
Below is the response my grandmother received last week from Andrew Samuel, Quality Service Manager, to my letter to Fay Chapman, Senior Executive Vice-President and General Counsel. I apologize for not providing a larger, better quality image for those who wish to read, but I tried to conserve bandwidth as much as possible. Click on the image for an enlarged version of the letter.

A summary of the contents:

1. Washington Mutual accepts no responsibility for the protection of its customer's account.

2. The two phone-authorized checks we cashed against your account were valid "negotiable instruments" according to what is defined as a "demand draft" in Uniform Commercial Code 3104. Under this code, any check presented by a third party under your "purported authority" will be cashed.

3. A demand draft can be authorized by nothing more than one of our customers stating yes and confirming the city in which their account is held.

4. Washington Mutual's Forgery Department's responsibility is to place as much liability as possible on our customers. The Forgery Department is "very familiar" with telemarketing companies such as the one that defrauded you, yet Washington Mutual still unquestionly processes checks from them.

5. Washington Mutual is no different than other financial institution in accepting checks of this nature.

I give Washington Mutual and Mr. Samuel credit on two counts:

1. He wrote out a personally signed letter within 2 weeks of receiving my letter.

2. He answered each of the questions I raised.

I'm not satisfied by the response. In fact, I'm even more outraged by the grounds upon which Washington Mutual defends their acceptance of these checks. And his letter raises as many questions as it answers.

Mr. Samuel provides a phone number: 1-800-225-5497, option 2. I am going to write down my questions and contact him sometime in the coming week.


Friday, March 24, 2006
weekly update
By necessity, I'm putting my campaign to get Grandma's money back into cruise control. But I'm still going to try to update this every week or two until I reach some kind of satisfactory resolution -- especially now that I'm starting to be contacted by people who have ended up on this site via major search engines.

Here's a summary of the responses (or lack of) that I've got from various companies and organization I've contacted in trying to resolve this:

Client Care Relations (1-866-898-7489)
Contacted them just now and simply asked for an update on my Grandma's refund check. Told by David Employee #533 (who I believe is the same person I spoke to last time) that check was cut and mailed on 3/6 and my Grandma should have it no later than Monday. This flatly contradicts what he told me last time so I suspect he is lying through his teeth.

Washington Mutual (1-866-513-9186)
No response yet to my letter.

Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher (website)
No response to email I sent her last week.

National Fraud Information Center (website)
No response to message I sent through their website.

Canadian Competition Bureau (website)
I received the following response on Mar 20:

I have received no further response.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Response from AARP
A form letter by the looks of it, but some new leads (or links) which I may pursue if I find the time. They all sound a bit toothless. But that's one of the reasons I put together this blog -- so I can take full advantage of life in the age of digital reproduction and, rather than re-telling or re-writing out the whole sordid tale, just send them a link here.

I did fill out an NFIC Online Incident Report Form, but as with so many of these forms I've seen, it's unnecessarily long, ugly, and gives no assurance that it will prompt an immediate response. So I kept it simple:

Friday, March 17, 2006
Email to Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher
My grandmother passed along a postcard her local state assemblywoman, Lynn Daucher (72nd District - R), had sent her advertising a "Senior Scam Stopper Town Hall." I'd be really skeptical of getting much help out of a Republican politician -- or a Democratic politician, for that matter -- (but especially a Republican politican), given the fact that the scam that caught grandma can be traced back to corporate-lobby-written legislation like Check 21.

Nevertheless, I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and sent the following note to her through her website:

I'll post any response I get here.
New Letter to Canadian Competition Bureau
Don't suspect this will have much effect, if any. But on the off-chance that the Bureau is compiling a dossier to file away for later review and perhaps reference in a government study or report someday, I wrote them another letter:

I wrote you a couple weeks ago about a Canadian company, CCR, that works in league with scammers here in the US and helped defraud my grandmother of at least $798. I've been documenting my interactions with them so I won't repeat them here, but will refer you to my blog, where the facts are laid out in detail.


Please contact me if I may be of further assistance in penalizing or, ideally, putting these crooks out of business.

O, Canada... don't let me down.
Update on Refund from Client Care Relations
Last week I noted ("Refund in Process") I was told by Client Care Relations (CCR), 1-866-898-7489, the company that represents Identity Theft Prevention (ITP), the company that scammed my grandmother, that a refund was in process and she should be receiving a check within 7-10 business days.

I called back today to check up on the status of the refund check. To my utter shock and amazement, I learned that there had been a change in the status of the refund. David, employee #533, informed me that I had been misinformed by Louis (who really appeared at the time to have a very firm grasp of the process). A check has not yet been cut, much less mailed.

David stated that the check first would attempt to be directly deposited to my grandmother's Wamu account, which has now been closed of course. If that failed, then the process for cutting a refund check would start, but he did not know how long that would take or what exactly is involved. He said it could take several months.

A couple other interesting/disturbing facts I learned:

1. When I asked for the address of the company, he gave me a new address:
1320 State Route #9
Champlaine, NY 12919

First Google result: www.actionseniors.org

My question: why is the Action Alliance of Senior Citizens of Greater Philadelphia partnering with these scoundrels?

I think I've found the answer: they're a front for this crooked company.

The web page list a phone number: 1-800-454-2290. I'm currently on hold with this number but there's no no sign that anyone is ever going to pick up.

2. He said there was also another case on record for my grandma dating back to 9/15/2005. This involved another CCR client, Priority Assistance Group, that charged or attempted to charge my grandmother $398 (forget 3 -- 398 must be the magic number) for Group Prescription coverage.

My grandma never made any reference to this, making me think one of two things happened:

1. When the company tried to cash this check, it got stopped in process -- perhaps by Wamu (which would only make their failure to do so in this instance all the more maddening.)

2. The check was cashed but my grandma either overlooked it (not likely) or was too embarrassed to mention it (which I doubt, too.)

In any event, a refund has been requested on that case, too. It's in process.

I am going to write to the Canadian Competition Bureau again and apprise them of the latest news on my dealings with CCR.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006
Letter to AARP
As is probably obvious by this time, I have been making an active effort in my spare time to publicize this site and what happened. Today I wrote AARP through their website:

My grandmother was recently ripped off by some phone scammers. I investigated what happened and have been documenting what happened on my blog. The scammers are scum but what really maddened me was the way in which Washington Mutual (1) exposed my grandmother's checking account and (2) basically blamed her for what happened.

Full details here:


I get the feeling many seniors are being victimized by these kinds of scammers thanks to Wamu's check verification policies.

I hope that this can be of some help to your organization and its members.

I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.


It's been about a week since I wrote Washington Mutual. I still have not received any response to my letter.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Status: Undeliverable as Addressed
End result of attempt to return scammers' package as instructed:

Your item was undeliverable as addressed at 1:20 pm on March 14, 2006 in LAS VEGAS, NV 89102. It is being returned if appropriate information is available.
WaMu's new ad campaign
You've probably seen the new commercials with the stodgy, old bankers in the basement that the Wamu spokesman says they are actively ignoring.

Here's the Adweek summary:

* CHICAGO Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett depicts Washington Mutual using a captive focus group of stodgy, rich bankers to help guide its business decision in the agency's first work for the client.

* In television spots breaking today, the agency introduces the idea of the "banker's pen," where a pool of rich bankers is kept in the basement of a Washington Mutual branch.

* The new spots introduce a free checking product, which offers free ATM cash withdrawals, a free overdraft waiver, free checks for life and cash back for debit card use.

My question for Washington Mutual: was it one of those old bankers in the basement that told you not to accept checks like this?

Wamu accepted this check

If so, maybe you should hear out a few of their ideas. (One conclusion a cynic might draw from all of this: Washington Mutual doesn't mind sacrificing a few senior citizens if it serves the higher purpose of their own public image.)

A more detailed description of the new Wamu ad campaign can be found here:

Washington Mutual Launches National Advertising Campaign in Support of Its New WaMu Free Checking(TM) Account, Stirs Up the Industry

I suspect it has less to do with stirring up the industry than covering their ass(ets).


Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Correction: Identity Theft Prevention
Someone pointed out that I've made several references to the company behind the scam that ripped off my company as Identity Theft Protection. As printed on the check, it should read Identity Theft Prevention. (My apologies to Identity Theft Protection.)

A small point, but one that might prove meaningful for anyone doing an internet search on them.
Monday, March 13, 2006
as dugg on digg
as dugg on diggThanks to my friend tidokoro for the digg plug. I added my own comment this morning. Thanks also for the label (digg justice label) -- very cool.

Also, I was surprised to find this story featured on the front page of consumerist.com. I sent off an email to them yesterday after hearing a story about their March Madness worst company tournament on the NPR show, Marketplace. I guess Wamu didn't make the tournament. Too bad, they've been playing like champions lately.

Also, regarding the Google Maps photo, I put up:

google map

Someone on consumerist comments:

Google maps are routinely a block or two off. My home shows up as in the middle of the street a block behind us.

Good point. Someone else pointed this out to me after I originally posted it. Also, I'm aware that Google Maps photos are a little out-of-date. So it's possible that a thriving office complex sprung up on this lot within the last 6 months. Or that Identity Theft Protection is actually operating out of the McDonald's two doors down. If anyone in the neighborhood there is reading this and can check it out, please let us know.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
advice for dealing with unsolicited calls from banks
I could've sworn I was on the Do Not Call List. Whatever the case, Bank of America has been calling me a lot lately. I used to just tell them I wasn't in and offer to take a message when they asked for me. Now I say, "Good I'm glad you've called. I was just about to call you. I heard about all these pin numbers being stolen this week. Has my ATM card been compromised?"

Usually, they'll say something like, "Uh, you'll want to speak to another department," or, "Actually, I'm calling from the insurance company B of A has sold your personal information to," and give me a different number to call.

"Thank you. I'll do that now. Good bye." Click.

Actually, you could probably use this strategy with any unsolicited call -- not just banks. Just don't give them any personal information about you.


Friday, March 10, 2006
follow-up on compromised Wamu debit cards
The day after I posted this this:

Compromised Wamu Debit Cards?

this story appeared on msnbc.com:

Debit card thieves get around PIN obstacle

From the article:

Several banks have made clear in their announcements that PINs were stolen and used to make fraudulent withdrawals.

I explain in my post the way by which Wamu informed their customers of the breach (they didn't).

The whole article is worth reading, especially if you use a debit (as opposed to credit) card.


Refund in Process
Client Care Relations (CCR), 1-866-898-7489, the company that represents Identity Theft Protect (ITP), the company that scammed my grandmother, claims that a refund of the full amount of my grandma's check (the first one) is now being processed by Paramount Processing, the company that handles their refund processing. Yes, the business partnerships are all rather amazingly octopussian in nature. All this to rip off senior citizens over the phone -- that's free market synergy for you!

My grandma's not counting her refund checks before their cashed, but I don't doubt that they are sending her a refund.

Why? Was I too harsh in judging these business as sleazy scam artists?

Of course not. They just don't want too much of a fuss. They have enough victims that roll over meekly or don't even know where to start in trying to recover their money, that it's much simpler for them to just sweep away the troublemakers as quickly as possible.

What's funny is CCR was originally telling me that I had to send the junk mail my grandmother received back to the fraud merchants at ITP and call them back with a mailing receipt number before they could start processing the refunds. However, I called today to confirm the mailing information and I was told that the refund was already in process and a check should reach my grandma within the next couple weeks.

I went ahead and sent the material back by certified mail to the address CCR originally gave me:

Identity Theft Protection
1117 Desert Lane #100
Las Vegas, NV 89102

I'm curious to see what happens to the package, since this is the latest Google satellite photo of that location:

My certified receipt number:
7005 3110 0002 2159 9452

Feel free to track along from home.


what $400 gets you from ITP

not pictured: junk mail flyers


Thursday, March 09, 2006
slashdot article on combating identity theft
Yesterday from slashdot:

An anonymous reader writes "Net-Security is running an interesting article about some of the problems facing organizations when it comes to identity theft. From the article: 'Identity theft is the major security concern facing organizations today. Indeed, for the banking industry, it is the number one security priority for 2006. Identity security has developed beyond the simplest form of authentication where one party issues and verifies identities within a closed group of users. While easy to do, this approach is extremely hard and costly to scale upwards and offers no interoperability with other authentication networks.'"

My contribution to the post-article discourse:

not ID theft in the cool high tech sense, but...

I like the response:

Why is this surprising?
The US banking industry has documented policies that permit and encourage this to occur.
Get a 20th century banking system, and these incidents will stop virtually completely.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006
postscript to letter
It is probably worth noting that when my mom contacted Wamu after my grandma discovered the first unauthorized check on her account, she requested that only checks signed by my grandmother be cashed. WM replied that this was not possible.

Also, when I tried to contact the number listed for verifying authorization on the second check (the PowerTamers one) (see below), I was dumped in a dead voicemail box. This suggests that Wamu in fact never even tried to verify the authenticity of the second check. I suppose it's possible that the number had been abandoned within the last couple weeks after WM had contacted someone and assured themselves of the check's authority -- or, more to the point, assured themselves that they could deny responsibility for cashing it. But I find it more probably that, like Stephen Jay Gould in that episode of the Simpsons with the angel bones, they simply never did the test.
Letter to Fay L. Chapman, Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel (unreformatted version)
Pasting this from Word -- haven't reformatted it for the web yet.

This might be considered the Long Version of what happened:

Fay L. Chapman
Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel
Washington Mutual, Inc.
1201 Third Avenue, WMT 1501
Seattle, WA 98101

Forgery Department
Washington Mutual, Inc.
PO Box 201079, STA2FOR
Stockton, CA 95290

Re: My Grandmother, Case #200602xxxxx

Dear Ms. Chapman,

I'd like to share with you details of a fraud against my grandmother's Washington Mutual checking account. It resulted in her losing nearly $700 (about half her account balance) and led her to close her account and discontinue her business with Washington Mutual. I have spoken with representatives of Washington Mutual (WM) on your customer support phone line. I received incomplete and unsatisfactory answers to questions I raised about this incident. I was instructed to write this letter.

I am writing this letter as:

1. a concerned grandson
2. a Washington Mutual personal checking account holder myself
3. someone who would really like to see the type of people who victimized my grandmother and evidently make a career doing this put out of business

My grandmother is a responsible, independent, well-read 80 year-old widow. She still attends extension classes at her local university and is not a fool. She is not poor but lives in subsidized housing on fixed income. Her one failing: she was too polite to hang up on a phone solicitor and too trusting to recognize a scam in the making. After vainly filing a fraud claim with your Forgery Department, she closed her account and wisely decided to put this behind her as much as possible. It gives her a headache and, happily, she has better things to do with her time. Believe when I say I do as well. But she has given me her blessing in pursuing this matter and I have taken it up as a matter of civic responsibility if nothing else.

I have addressed this to you because I expect it will hold some special interest for you as an executive and general counsel for Washington Mutual or at least for someone who reports directly to you. I have also addressed it to Washington Mutual’s Forgery Department as advised, though I don’t have much confidence in the attention or helpfulness of this department for reasons explained below.

This is what happened, as best I can gather based on phone calls to representatives of the scammers, communications with Washington Mutual customer support, and conversations with my grandmother:

1. In December, she was phoned multiple times by men who possessed her account number and offered to credit her account in return for her cooperation in some kind of vague financial transaction. She admitted that it sounded “hokey,” but did not recognize it as a scam to defraud her account. She never wrote a check to them, never agreed to purchase anything, and never authorized them to withdraw funds from her account.

2. On December 22, Identity Theft Protection (ITP) printed a check in her name for the amount of $398. Though it was printed with her name, her (incomplete) street address, her account information, and Washington Mutual's name, it was not a check from her checkbook, she did not sign it, and it was cashed in Cleveland, OH, on the other side of the country. On December 28, WM processed the check and transferred the funds from her account.

3. The fraudulent transaction came to her attention at the end of January when she received her next statement from WM. She did not recognize the transaction and immediately phoned WM to report the unauthorized withdrawal. Around the same time, she received a package from a company named Identity Theft Protection in Las Vegas, NV. It contained generic brochures on identity theft and some miscellaneous junk mail. Apparently, this was the service or product the "merchants" presumed to offer my grandmother in return for her $398.

4. On February 14, the WM forgery department sent her an unsigned form letter stating that because the “merchant(s) in question voice-recorded the authorization for the transaction(s) in question,” her claim for reimbursement had been rejected. The letter went on to state, “In order to minimize the risk of future losses from against your compromised account, your account is scheduled to be closed with 15 business days from the date of this letter.” Because her social security checks must be directly deposited to an active account, she closed her account and opened a new one at a different bank with the assistance of her son and daughter (my mom) the following week.

5. Meanwhile, on February 7, after my grandmother had first reported the unauthorized withdrawal, WM honored another check for $299. Although the check was made out to a different company, the check otherwise looked identical to the first.

6. In recent days, I have contacted on several occasions a phone number listed on the first check. The number belongs to Client Care Relations, a Canadian firm that, according to agents with the company I have spoken to, represents over 60 firms. They would not give me any information on the company Identity Theft Protection that forged the check in my grandmother's name, but instructed me to send back the materials my grandmother had received by certified mail then call them back a week later with the receipt number and they would begin processing a refund with ITP. I am in the process of doing this. In phoning them, I also requested to hear the recorded authorization for the transaction. It was played for me and I maintain serious doubts about its authenticity. Client Care Relations claimed to have no knowledge of the second check and attempts to contact the number listed on the check end up in an anonymous voicemail box that is full and accepting no new messages.

7. Last week, I phoned Washington Mutual with my grandmother on the line to follow up on this matter. Before calling, I had drawn up a summary of events (like this one but much briefer) and questions regarding WM's policies and practice in handling my grandmother's account during these events. I spoke to two people who were unable to provide specific answers to my questions before being transferred to Jose Portilla who identified himself as a manager in the Forgery Department. He reiterated that my grandmother's forgery claim had been reviewed, rejected, and closed, and recommended I write this letter.

Listed below are the questions I wrote out before calling WM customer support and a summary of the responses I received:

1. These checks were not signed by my grandmother, did not originate from her checkbook or Washington Mutual, and were unlike any checks that have ever been written against her account before. Why did Washington Mutual honor them? What legitimate purpose could they possibly serve?

I never received a sensible answer to this question. I was informed that WM processed a number of these kinds of checks and they were processed automatically. The automatic acceptance of these checks seems to present a massive security risk for WM checking account holders.

2. What is the maximum amount for which Washington Mutual will automatically process with no additional security precautions?

I was told that there is no limit, only the funds available within the account. This surprised me.

3. How did Washington Mutual conduct their fraud investigation? What company did they contact? To whom did they speak?

The WM representative I spoke to could provide no details of how the investigation was conducted. The letter my grandmother received from WM's Forgery Department indicated only that the merchant possessed a voice recording authorizing the withdrawal and reprinted the phone number listed on the check.

4. The letter from WM's Fraud Department referred to a voice-recorded authorization. I have heard this recording. It sounded as though it had been both recorded out of context and doctored. How did WM's Fraud Department verify the authenticity of the recording?

WM reps could not answer this question and refused to allow me to speak to anyone in the department who might be able to answer it. Rather, both the phone agent Akiva and her manager Jose Portilla asked whether my grandmother had said her account number in the recording. I said that she had, but noted that she had not authorized the transaction. Both maintained that this was sufficient authorization. I reframed the question for Mr. Portilla:

5. Is it then the case that any merchant or criminal that records my grandmother saying her account number can print a check in her name and withdraw funds from her account in any amount?

He agreed that this was the case. I remain astounded. Mr. Portilla said at this point he could be of no further assistance and advised me to restate my concerns in writing.

From this interaction, I concluded the following:

1. Anyone can print up a check on my account in the way that these scammers did and Washington Mutual will process it and transfer the money from my account to theirs. The information required is public information and readily available -- anyone to whom I've written a check or who has served in the processing of that check necessarily has access to it. Because Washington Mutual accepts these dubious third-party checks, it is powerless to stop fraudulent checks in process.

2. If, after the fact, the scammers, con-men, or criminals can produce a recording in which I say my account number, regardless of the context, Washington Mutual will absolve itself of all responsibility for its role in the fraud by claiming that I “compromised my own account.”

Please correct me if I am wrong in any of these particulars. This however is the direct conclusion I drew from the very specific questions and concerns I raised with Washington Mutual support staff as they related to the forgery involving my grandmother.

As a Washington Mutual personal checking account holder myself, these revelations concern me immensely. Furthermore, Washington Mutual's apparent indifference in accepting suspicious checks and laxity in investigating claims of fraud strike me as the critical weakness in a system that appears to grossly benefit unscrupulous merchants and criminals who prey on senior citizens.

I feel compelled to add, as a final point, that having had to deal with customer service staff for both your company and representatives for the company that actively defrauded my grandmother, the latter proved on the whole more professional in tone and cooperative in nature. Despite my frustration with WM's actions, I made it a point to remain polite and civil through my conversation with your staff. The courtesy was not always returned.

Additionally, I found the process of navigating WM’s bureaucracy extraordinarily aggravating. My grandmother and I were transferred twice, with delays at each step. To finally be transferred to Jose Portilla required my grandmother and I to wait on hold for 15 minutes, without any warning of how long the wait would be or updates on when he would available to take our call. Perhaps this was a phone room vigilante's simple vindictiveness. But then when my grandmother and mom went to my grandmother's local branch to close her account, they had to wait a half-hour while one of your branch managers waited on hold on the phone herself for one of WM's own departments to unfreeze the account so that it might be closed. If this is not maverick pettiness of a few rogue employees within your company, you really need to give some attention to improving your internal organization.

While such service has not been my general experience as an account holder with your institution over the last several years, the exception in this case is almost strong enough to wipe out the effect of all the positive service I've experienced, not to mention all the Washington Mutual commercials I've seen, during that time.

I hope you or someone at Washington Mutual will be able to address in reasonable detail the questions and concerns about Washington Mutual check policy and account security that I have raised here. Mr. Portilla told me that it might require as much as 30 days for a response, but that I could expect a personal response. Considering the time and energy I have invested in this matter, I hope I may see a speedier reply. In any event, I hope my efforts will be of some service to both your institution and your account holders generally.



Compromised Wamu Debit Cards?
I was telling a friend of mine about my grandmother's experience this past weekend and she told me she had her own greivances to air about Wamu. Recently she was used her debit card at an ATM, but at the end of the transaction, the machine didn't return her card. She phoned customer support and was told a new one was already on its way. Shortly thereafter she received a new one in the mail, but the label had switched from Visa to Mastercard.

I told her it sounded fishy -- like Wamu had had an issue with the security on their Visa debit cards. One so serious, in fact, that they programmed their ATMs to issue an immediate recall on all cards so that, without any warning to their customers, ATM machines started swallowing the ATM cards.

This hypothesis receives some confirmation from a reader of this blog who contacted me to write that her Wamu account had been defrauded 3 times by a person or people using her debit card number. After her first two reports, she was issued a new card but within 30 days her account was hit again. The fraud stopped after she was issued another new card -- which she noted, after I shared with her my friend's tale -- had indeed switch from the Visa to the Mastercard label.

I only have an ATM card so this didn't affect me, but it appears Wamu didn't offer any notice about this to any of their debit card holders in any case.

Want more fear and dread about your personal security? Listen to this morning's interview with ChoicePoint marketing officer, James Lee, on NPR. What bullshit. The piece is titled "There Are Good Uses of Information, and Bad" on the NPR website, but, from the individual consumer's point-of-view, I have a hard time seeing the good the will come from a private corporation selling your personal information.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Public Comments
Update: since the site has been linked on dugg, I figure I'll make that the de facto forum for people wishing to comment on this site:

public comments on digg

I've received a couple interesting notes from readers of this blog who have had their own problems with Washington Mutual. I've added this entry for the purpose of serving as a sort of forum for reader comments. I'll add a fixed link to the home page shortly.

Had a problem with a WaMu account or been scammed by crooks like my grandma? Perhaps you're a scammer or con man yourself? You're all welcome to comment here.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Check #1
With grandma's permission, here is the first check printed by the scammers and processed by WaMu to withdraw funds from grandma's account. I've black-barred my grandma's personal information and some numbers on the check to protect her identity as much as possible.

The three black bars at the upper right conceal her name and address (which was not entirely correct -- her apartment number was missing.) She said that they had her account number when they called.

Note: this is not a check from grandma's checkbook, there is no signature, no check like this had even been used by my grandma before, the check was printed by the scammers themselves, it was cashed at bank in Cleveland -- on the other side of the country. Yet WaMu still transferred the funds out of my grandma's account and called the transaction legitimate.
I originally wrote that grandma was swindled of nearly $600. Apparently, scammers can add better than I can -- it was actually close to $700. I've updated my summary above.
PowerTamers 877-436-5100
The original fraudulent activity on my grandmother's bank account in December came to her attention when she received her monthly statement from Washington Mutual at the end of January. She immediately phoned WM to initiate a fraud claim (which was rejected.) Yet, on February 2, a different company (in name at least) drew up a second check for $299 which, too, was unquestioningly processed by WM a couple days later and the funds transfered from my grandmother's account to some sleazeball affliliated with an account with National City Bank (no, the name doesn't make any sense to me either) in Cleveland, Ohio.

The check looks in every way identical to the first except for the name of the company to which it's paid, the memo (it says is for "Internet Services and Power Saver" -- my grandma does not have a computer) and the phone number in authorization statement on it, which reads

This payment has been authorized by the above name depositor and is guaranteed by the payee. For questions regarding this check, please call 877-436-5100.

For the record, it was not guaranteed by the payee -- in fact, it was entirely unbeknownst to her -- and if you do have questions, call her first. Because if you call that number, you will get an automated system that eventually dumps you in a full voicemail box.

I'm going to call back later and record what happens and put a link to the file here. But first, I am going to try to get photos of the two checks uploaded later today.

If you're trying to learn more about PowerTamers, Google is not much help.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006
Uniform Commercial Code Article 3
My uncle -- who's been helping my grandmother get this mess sorted out -- pointed me to the UCC after he came across it on this site (ckfraud.org) while doing some research into check fraud. I told him I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out this site were run by a company like the one that ripped off Grandma. Still, it contained some useful information that helped point me to more reliable sources, like this Cornell University site on the UCC:


Here's what I gather is the relevant legal code:


* (a) A person whose failure to exercise ordinary care substantially contributes to an alteration of an instrument or to the making of a forged signature on an instrument is precluded from asserting the alteration or the forgery against a person who, in good faith, pays the instrument or takes it for value or for collection.

* (b) Under subsection (a), if the person asserting the preclusion fails to exercise ordinary care in paying or taking the instrument and that failure substantially contributes to loss, the loss is allocated between the person precluded and the person asserting the preclusion according to the extent to which the failure of each to exercise ordinary care contributed to the loss.

* (c) Under subsection (a), the burden of proving failure to exercise ordinary care is on the person asserting the preclusion. Under subsection (b), the burden of proving failure to exercise ordinary care is on the person precluded.

Good luck making that out! Whoever wrote that should be forced to sit on hold with Washington Mutual while they write that out 1000 times. Then they should be re-enrolled in a freshman university composition class.

After re-reading it several time, this is what I finally figured out it was probably trying to say (at least as it applies here):

"We the lawmakers behind this legislation have worded this section confusingly and ambiguously enough that, in the case of a dispute between a large financial corporation and one of its account holders, the dispute can be decided according to whatever way an empowered legal authority sees fit to interpret 'ordinary care'. If you're the account holder, and you're lucky, you'll get to split the difference."

I'm not even sure the checks -- that the scammer, I repeat, printed up themselves -- qualify as "forged instruments". But I believe the purported recording of my grandmother's authorization (which I now have a copy of) should. I'm going to add links to both these documents some time this week.

More info on the UCC can be found on Wikipedia. Of special interest:

The Code, as the product of private organizations, is not itself the law, but only has the force of law if enacted by states. The ALI-NCCUSL has also established a permanent editorial board for the Code which has issued a number of official comments and other published papers concerning the Code. Although these commentaries do not have the force of law, courts interpreting the Code will often cite them as persuasive authority in determining the effect of one or more provisions.

The Code, in one or another of its several revisions, has been enacted in 49 of the 50 states.

Uniform Commercial Code (wikipedia.org)

So it sounds like -- in making reference to the UCC as the law in a dispute with a major financial corporation over a fraudulent check -- you may well be disputing a party that helped write the law. Good luck.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
wamu's response to fraud claim


There was no fraud, but your account was compromised.


Friday, March 03, 2006
short version added
added as brief a summary of the matter as possible at the top of the page for get-to-the-point visitors to this site. hopefully, it's short and punchy enough to get someone's attention.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006
footnotes to the last post
A couple things I thought worth noting related to the last post:

1. Harrison Adams
Again, the name of the verification officer. His company's name: Identity Theft Protection, or ITP.

2. 1-888-742-0880
This is the number he gives at the end of the recording to call if there are any questions. To get the recording, I called 1-866-898-7489 -- the number that had been printed on the check (in the box where the signature usually goes.)

3. Client Care Relations
This is the company that handles customer support (i.e. runs interference) for ITP. There phone number is. (It says something that their operators were much more professional and helpful than Washington Mutual's, even though I was probably more aggressive and demanding -- though always polite -- in my question of them.) This article I found is worth a look:

Hundreds hit by alleged Net drug scam

From the article:

When people call the phone number listed next to the charge on their accounts, they reach operators who identify themselves as employees of Client Care Relations in Montreal -- a third-party firm which handles phone calls for PharmacyCards.com. Operators tell callers that there's no way to reach PharmacyCards.com and then offer to refund their money.

The article led me to this site, run (I hope) by a Canadian government agency:


There I filed the following complaint:

The bureau's phone number is: 1-800-348-5358


the recording
I've had to revise my position. I called the company that serves as customer relations for the merchant that scammed my grandmother today. I listened several times to the recording which they had on file and claimed was evidence of my grandmother's informed consent to withdraw funds from her account. With their consent, I made a copy using my computer microphone.

The first time I heard it, I was convinced that it was spliced together from several conversations by the merchant so that it could fraudulently represent her authorization. This was in large part because of what my grandmother had told me had happened. But I forced myself to be fair and check with my grandmother to determine whether this was in fact a manipulated recording or the actual conversation that took place.

I played it for my grandmother over the phone this afternoon. She wasn't positive it wasn't edited, but said that she remembers being talking to a couple different people over the course a several calls. The trick of the scam hinged upon two factors:

1. The operator who originally called her transferred her to "the verification officer on duty," Harrison Adams. Harrison Adams had a very assertive demeanor and rapidly asked my grandmother to verify a few pieces of information, including her name, address, bank, checking account number, and routing number. The second operator is the small print guy who actually extracts the words from her that may (I'd like to emphasize the legally unsettled status of this conclusion) transform this scam from outright criminal fraud into a legal but highly unscrupulous, totally scumbag fleecing.

2. Specifically, the con hinges on the way in which Harrison Adams phrases his request to withdraw funds from her account. The first operator told her that the funds would be deposited into her account. Harrison Adams first states:

"...All right, do you one-time registration [sic] for the ITP ID Protection Package."

It starts as a question, but he does not leave room for her response. This must be deliberate. I don't doubt she wouldn't have said yes, had he asked her to affirm this, for, as she explains, more than the money promised her, she simply wished to be done with all the calls. (Why, if this is what she really wanted, she just didn't say, "No thanks, goodbye," is a question I leave for the psychologists and anthropologists out there to answer.)

Then her purported authorization. The agent says:

"Now Virgina [name altered to protect identity], $398 that you requested to be drafted from the checking account the 20th day of December, 2005, which is today. Is this correct?"

The fraud hinges on the word 'from'. Before this, the agent had emphasized the funds would be deposited into her account. Now they say they will be drawn from -- the preposition goes by fast, garbled, and unnoticed.

With my grandmother's consent, I will include a link to this recording here. I will dub over any personal information mentioned to protect her privacy.

Even if this were the actual transcript of their conversation, does this constitute a legal authorization? The agent and his company, ITP, (may they all rot with syphillus) obviously believed so. They drew up a check in my grandmother's name and cashed it with their bank.

Washington Mutual believed it was a legitimate authorization, too. They processed the check and transferred the funds from her account to the scam artists' account -- despite the fact that it was not a check from her checkbook, did not have her signature, did not look like any other check that had ever been presented against her account, and was paid to an out-of-state company.

The fact is, at least according to two representative from Washington Mutual I've spoken with, this check would have been processed and the funds withdrawn even if my grandmother had never said anything over the phone that sounded like an authorization. And there is no ceiling on the amount in which such a check could be written. The only limit to the amount which a dishonest merchant could take out of your account by printing a check with your information on it is the funds available in your account.

In a case where the unscrupulous merchant simply printed up a check without getting a voice recording of their victim, the difference would be that, when my grandmother initiated a fraud claim (as she did), Washington Mutual might actually stop payment or, if it were too late for that, call back the funds. It would do nothing to prevent the same dishonest company from doing the same thing tomorrow. Actually I learned yesterday that my grandmother had been hit a second time for $200 on this same account. A different company in name, but same type of check -- and it was presented after she had contacted Washington Mutual to initiate the fraud claim.

With my grandmother's consent, I'll also post a copy of the check -- marked to protect her identity -- here. Why such a check would ever be accepted is one of the questions Washington Mutual has not answered for me yet? I can see no necessary use for such an instrument except for fraud.

I'll post more on my grandmother and my interactions with Washington Mutual at the next opportunity.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006
blog established
I've created this blog to document a dispute between my grandmother and her bank -- and mine -- Washington Mutual. I'll explain the source of the dispute in full. If what I have been told by representatives of Washington Mutual is true, the details of the matter will be of interest to a much wider audience than my immediate family as it suggests Washington Mutual is putting its account holders -- especially senior citizens for reasons I'll try to explain elsewhere -- at risk of fraud at a staggering level.

Note, some post may be retroactively dated in order to provide a more accurate chronology of our communications with Washington Mutual up until this date.