(KTLA) – According to the FBI, about $2 billion is lost annually to wire-transfer fraud. Some cases involve newfangled payment apps, such as Zelle, while others rely on traditional fund transfers from bank accounts.
In many cases, scammers are reaching out directly and attempting to gain their victims’ trust, according to experts.
“Unfortunately, it’s being used by a lot of fraudsters who are using social engineering tricks to convince consumers that they work for the bank or they’re there to help them in some regard,” explained Linda Sherry, a director for Consumer Action.
Wire-transfer scams may be even more prevalent during holidays, experts say.
“It’s just very frustrating and very scary,” said Martina Boyeras Carbonell, who told News 2’s sister station, KTLA, that she recently lost nearly $42,000 to a wire-transfer scam involving her bank account.
“I feel violated. All my personal information is out and all my savings are gone.”
Carbonell said she received bogus texts and calls from people claiming to be Chase bank employees. The scammers had done their homework.
“They already had my card numbers, my address, my account number, the name of my company, everything,” said Carbonell.
What the fraudsters apparently lacked was the password for her business account, which Carbonell said she may have unwittingly provided when she checked her online account during the two hours she was kept on the phone.
Sue Solleder, a real estate broker in San Diego County, lost more than $81,000 after hackers gained access to her Chase business account and made repeated attempts to wire money elsewhere.
She said Chase prevented the first 10 attempts from going through, but it green-lighted the next five. Solleder’s funds were whisked away to Delaware and then to Abu Dhabi.
“I just was so shocked,” said Solleder. “I never heard of anybody taking $81,000 from somebody.”
Even worse, after she brought the matter to Chase’s attention, the bank denied her claim for compensation, saying the cash transfers “were authorized” by Solleder.
That’s a key point. Banks exploit a loophole in federal banking rules that frees them from compensating people if they decide the customer “authorized” a transaction by providing information that facilitated the transfer. But Solleder claims that wasn’t the case.
After KTLA reached out to Chase about the theft, the bank said it would fully compensate Solleder for her missing $81,000. A bank spokesperson said it was clear her account had been hacked, even though the bank previously insisted she was partly to blame.
In Carbonell’s case, Chase at first insisted she wouldn’t be compensated either, because she provided information to the con artists. But when they were notified that she was tricked into doing so, Chase reversed course and said Carbonell would be paid back as well.
It’s important, then, that consumers know how to best protect themselves from scammers by following three key rules: Never rush into a wire transfer or other unexpected transaction; call the bank yourself and confirm if there’s an issue with your account; and have the bank verify that you didn’t authorize any transactions if you’ve been victimized.
Consumer advocates, meanwhile, say they would like banks to do a better job of spotting and preventing suspicious wire transfers.
“Their system is weak,” Carbonell said. “Hackers are able to get into personal accounts, business accounts, and on top of that they blame the customer.”