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Port aux Basques senior’s bank account compromised

Elsie McNeil says she no longer trusts her bank after she discovered funds from her account were being automatically withdrawn to pay a stranger’s bill.
Elsie McNeil says she no longer trusts her bank after she discovered funds from her account were being automatically withdrawn to pay a stranger’s bill.

Like most seniors, Elsie McNeil lives on a fixed income that she carefully budgets.

A couple of months ago she noticed a discrepancy with her pension payout and visited her bank to determine why it was lower than expected, and had been for some time. The answer was shocking.

Through online banking McNeil was paying a stranger’s cable bill, and had been doing so for the past 17 months. That meant a loss of over $1300; money she could ill afford to have taken.

“They done nothing,” said Elsie about the lack of help from the Port aux Basques branch of the Bank of Montreal (BMO). “I haven’t been able to sleep since, thinking about how did they get into my bank account? The bank says they’re not at fault.”

After the issue was discovered, the BMO charged McNeil $20 to stop the payments from coming out of her account automatically every month. McNeil has a son in South Branch on her account to help out, but says he doesn’t know anything about it either and was completely taken aback when he received a call about what was going on.

McNeil pays her bills directly at the bank teller window every month and not through online banking. In a small town there are limited options, changing all of her cheques and other services feels overwhelming for McNeil. Mostly she seeks reassurance from the BMO that her money is safe and this won’t happen again, but that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.

“I wasn’t looking for money. I need some assurances from the bank and they put me off,” said McNeil, who would visit daily to try to understand how and why this happened, but feels the teller treated her rudely and without warning left for vacation.

Desperate and frustrated she turned to her daughter for help. Karen Dixon lives in Ontario where she serves as a member of the armed forces. She intervened on her mother’s behalf with the bank, who returned the $20 stoppage fee, but that still wasn’t the end of it. The BMO then charged Elsie another $6 and change in overage fees.

“They sort of dropped the ball on her,” said Dixon, who managed to get the BMO to return the $20 fee. But she too is unimpressed with the treatment her mother received from the local branch. “They’re not accommodating at all.”

Dixon told the Gulf News that the teller helping her mother advised Dixon she had faxed the cable company on Tuesday, but when Dixon checked on Friday the cable company had not heard from the bank, and in fact had been calling for at least four days without getting someone to answer or return their calls. It was then Dixon dug in her heels.

“I’m not going to let this happen to my Mom,” said Dixon, who has heard two different stories from two different branch employees. One told her the two accounts had similar numbers, and the other said they are nothing alike. “I personally think it was the bank’s fault.”

Eventually the cable company refunded the payments her mother had made on the second account, and Dixon does not hold them accountable, saying that they’ve been very understanding, cooperative and helpful.

Elsie did approach the local branch of the RCMP and it’s Dixon’s understanding that they will provide an update once they finish checking into the matter.

Online banking

For some seniors technology such as online banking can be confusing.

Sgt. Terry Alexander of the Port aux Basques detachment advises them to contact the department if seniors need tips or information on how to protect their finances online.

“For the most part, if they’re going to be doing online banking, have someone that can check things over for them if they’re not comfortable doing it themselves,” he said.

Elsie has yet to receive any kind of explanation or apology from the bank.

“I got my money back but I don’t feel safe there no more,” said Elsie.

So far neither the local branch or the media relations department for BMO have chosen to comment, nor have they responded to Gulf News questions related to banking security measures.

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