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Column: Fraud victim had to fight TCF Bank for refund

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: September 23, 2013 - 9:34 AM

From Sunday's Whistleblower Column:

Molly Lindmeyer hates flying, so she knew something was amiss when her husband called to ask why she had charged $500 to Southwest Airlines with their check card.

She called TCF Bank on July 30, thinking the bank would quickly deal with the fraudulent charge and reimburse the money. Instead, the bank told her she would not be getting her money back because she had benefited from the transaction. Lindmeyer said one bank employee told her there was video of her getting on the plane.

The fraudulent charge on Lindmeyer’s account triggered a criminal investigation led by the Maple Grove police with cooperation from Southwest. But even after they gave Lindmeyer a copy of the police report stating the charge originated outside Minnesota, TCF Bank didn’t reimburse her money.

Then Lindmeyer contacted Whistleblower, and on Wednesday I asked TCF for an explanation. This time, a bank spokesman said Lindmeyer would get her $500 back.

Last week, a consumer advocacy group released a report that named Wayzata-based TCF Bank No. 1 among 90 banks in customer complaints, measured by the rate per total deposits. Bank officials dispute the findings.

“We have seen a dramatic decline in customer complaints over the last several years, and you don’t get that part of it in this report,” said TCF spokesman Geoff Thomas. “We’ve made a number of business decisions around customer reaction and customer response.”

But Thomas admitted that in Lindmeyer’s case, the bank’s customer service fell short, and its procedures in these cases would now be reviewed.

‘He told me they had video’

Consumers who notice unauthorized activity on a bank account must promptly report it, according to the FDIC. If a fraudulent charge is reported within two business days, the customer has a maximum liability of $50. Notifying a bank after those two days could mean a $500 liability, although some banks may waive liability if the fraud is reported promptly, the FDIC says.

Once a transaction is reported, banks have up to 10 business days to conduct an investigation.

Lindmeyer, who reported the suspicious charge within two days, thought that all she had to do was wait 10 days and see the credit on her account. Instead, on Aug. 6, she received a letter from TCF Bank saying “it was determined in our investigation that you received benefit from one or more of the transactions in question.” The letter also said she has a right to obtain copies of all documents replied upon in the investigation, but Lindmeyer said the bank has not released those.

She then called customer service to dispute the findings. She spoke to a manager, who reiterated what was in the letter.

“He told me they had video of me getting on the plane,” Lindmeyer said. “If it wasn’t me, he said I had a bigger problem than the $500 charge, since someone is looking like me.”

Lindmeyer then called Southwest. The airline told her that no plane ticket had been issued. If TCF Bank called Southwest, they could refund her money. But Lindmeyer said TCF Bank told her the case had already been closed, but that she could file an appeal.

She again called Southwest and found out more about what had happened: Someone had bought a Southwest Airlines gift card and had all her information, including address. They then used the gift card to purchase two airline tickets in two different names.

Maple Grove police gave Lindmeyer a copy of a police report that showed the names of the people who purchased round-trip tickets from San Diego to Las Vegas and back. Sgt. Tom Engels with Maple Grove police said Southwest canceled the tickets before anyone got on a plane.

“We both assumed that there was no way the bank wouldn’t give my money back,” Lindmeyer said.

‘We can always help’

Thomas said the case was reopened and TCF was currently in the process of recouping the funds from Southwest, a process that can take up to 45 days. Thomas said the bank initially denied Lindmeyer’s claim because the information, such as her address, matched the gift card purchase.

“There are parts of the experience where we handled it exactly according to regulation,” Thomas said. “But I think we could have been more helpful with it, and that’s something we will be following up on with the individuals that were involved.”

For example, he said, Lindmeyer wrote TCF Bank a letter saying a branch manager told her they were unable to help her file a claim, which Thomas said should not have happened.

Thomas said Lindmeyer’s experience was unique and is not a reflection of the bank’s customer-service expectations.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group released a report Tuesday saying TCF Bank was the most complained-about bank in the country, based on the ratio of consumer complaints and total deposits.

The biggest complaint was about the opening, closing or management of a checking account.

Thomas said the report’s methodology is flawed because TCF Bank does not have a significant amount of commercial deposits. TCF has only $14 billion in deposits but 1.2 million checking accounts. By comparison, a similar-sized bank would have 50 to 60 percent more commercial deposits, he said.

Thomas does not dispute that there is room for improvement, and said the bank takes all customer complaints seriously.

Lindmeyer isn’t convinced. She’s moving her money into a credit union and away from TCF.

“I think customer service is not that high on their list, ” Lindmeyer said.

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