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'Everything was gone': Vancouver woman left in the dark about bank account fraud

Janet Walmsley lost her savings — only to have it returned nearly a month later — without any explanation from her bank After nearly $17,000 disappeared from the Vancouver woman's bank account,  Walmsley says investigators told her they believe a thief used her personal information to make off with thousands, but she doesn't know how the culprit accomplished it. It all started when the 64-year-old Vancouver actor  was coming off a bad cold and  decided to hit the drug store for some medication last month. But when she went to pay — her debit card was declined. "I went, 'Boy that's strange,' because I knew there was money in the account." It was only the next day, Oct. 23, that she began to comprehend the scope of what had happened.

"I went to our online banking ...  couldn't get in."

Calls to Scotiabank's customer service and fraud departments provided her with little insight, she says, except that her account was in trouble. She discovered they were tapped dry only after a visit to her local branch.  Approximately $16,800 of the family's money was withdrawn in the span of a day, each transaction occurring in Regina, Sask. — far from Walmsley's rented apartment in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood.

Christian Amundsen/CBC
Christian Amundsen/CBC

"Everything was gone. All the money out of chequing. All the money out of our savings... They maxed [our credit cards] to the hilt." Walmsley says the thieves also drained a basic account set up as a trust for her daughter Jenny Story, 26, who lives with autism. Walmsley says she would expect unusual banking activity taking place in a different city to trigger an alert from her bank, but she received nothing from Scotiabank to tip her off. She also suggests that Scotiabank staff fell short several times during the resulting investigation: repeatedly asking for police files that had already been shared with bank staff, offering no updates on the investigation or whether the family's money would be returned.

Customers should expect full transparency

Technology writer Graham Williams of Vancouver says consumers should expect nothing less than full transparency from their bank when dealing with issues involving identity fraud. "I don't think anyone out there has ever thought to themselves 'I have too much information' about my situation," he told CBC. "If you are in a position where you are in customer service ... really take that time to put yourself in the customer's shoes". Williams says consumers can be proactive by subscribing to an identity-monitoring service which sends a notification if someone has accessed your account or tried to run a credit check in your name.  

Problem suddenly solved

After sharing her story with CBC, but before CBC contacted ScotiaBank, Walmsley discovered the money suddenly had been returned to her account. Her daughter's trust money was also returned, and the bank gave her funds to pay off her two maxed-out credit cards.   "I was speechless. It's one of those feelings where you're so happy but you're kind of in disbelief because it took so long for this to happen." "I feel I deserve the decency and respect to tell me why this money was put back in — but also what the investigation brought about. Why did they give me the money-back? Did they find the fraudulent behaviour?"

Christian Amundson/CBC

Scotiabank offers regret

In a written statement, Scotiabank spokesperson Doug Johnson told CBC "we sincerely regret the position this customer was put in, and [we] thoroughly review any instance in which customers feel we have not met their expectations." He said the bank invests significantly in fraud detection and equips its customers with tools such as Scotia InfoAlerts, which helps customers "identify unauthorized transactions as they happen."

With files from Belle Puri