Citibank: Fraud, FAIL and loss of faith

Let me tell you a little story about a goofy ol’ worldwide bank that you might’ve heard of: Citibank.

(UPDATE, 2/19: Citibank has a total of 3 women working for them who are not like the story below.)

It’s Friday night, I’m having drinks with my comics instructor, the illustrious (pun intended) Tom Hart. I go to pay for the drinks with my Citibank debit card, hooked up to that silly li’l thing I like to refer to as my “checking account.” The bartender informed me that it wasn’t going through, which was a bit of a surprise… I have a tempestuous relationship with my dough, sure, but I should be able to eek out $20 for cocktails.

Logged into my online account, where a very bright red font did its job of getting my attention: I was overdrawn by four thousand dollars. Hmmmm. I quickly ran through the past week: yes, it’d been an insane week with lots going on, and yeah, there were a coupla fuzzy spots in my memory, but I was, um, pretty sure that I couldn’t have spent all the money in my checking and my overdraft and then still have been overdrawn by… let me repeat… four thousand dollars.

Looking through my list of transactions, it didn’t take long to pinpoint the problem: a check for $4,900. Again with the quick brain scan: did I write a $4,900 check? No, no, I didn’t. The image of the check itself showed a check that wasn’t one of mine (but had all my info on it), made out to someone I didn’t know, in handwriting that was also not mine. Fascinating. But also… Very Bad Indeed.

I picked up the phone and called Ye Olde “Customer Service.” From here on out, “customer service” will always be printed in quotes when referring to Citibank, and should be read as if I were performing finger quotes each time I say it. After a 15-minute wait for a “customer service” representative to come online, I explained what I’d discovered, and asked what we could do about it.

“You’ll have to take two forms of ID to your local branch and file a fraudulent check claim,” said the “customer service” guy on the phone.

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“No,” he said.

As it turns out, Citibank doesn’t really have a plan for this sort of thing. Electronic identity theft? They’re on it. You call ’em, you fax them a letter, and a coupla days later, you got your cash back. Someone goes old school on your ass and makes their own checks with your info? Citibank sorta shrugs and tells you to go old school and find a branch.

The call with “customer service,” to be honest, didn’t end well. I told the representative that I wasn’t going to get off the phone until he told me that Citibank didn’t care about me and the fact that someone’s trying to steal five thousand dollars from me.

“But Citibank does care about you,” he said.

“Clearly, my friend, Citibank does not care about me,” I replied with an increasingly shaky voice, “since you can’t do anything about the fact that I’m overdrawn by four thousand dollars right now because some smartass thief has figured out your system.” (We went back and forth on this point for quite a while; I’ll spare you the complete play-by-play.)

“As I stated before–”

“No need. Keep working for your crappy company that doesn’t give a crap at all. Good luck with that.” I hung up.

Resigned, I waited till today– it was President’s Day on Monday and Citibank was closed — to go to the branch in Park Slope. The “customer service” person there basically told me that because there were insufficient funds in the account for the check, everything would reverse out by Thursday-ish (she couldn’t be sure) and everything would be back to normal. Was I going to have to pay the fees for a bounced check? No, come back and she’ll reverse those for me. (Come back! To the bank! In 2009, ten years into the Age of the Information Superhighway!)

Moving along in the process was impossible without me pulling teeth. Through a series of intense questioning, I figured out that to commence an investigation into the matter, I had to file a police report. Citibank wouldn’t take any action themselves. Right. Why would they?

“What if I had had the money to clear the check?” I asked.

“It would have cleared,” she said quite plainly.

“And I’d be out $4,900?” I asked further, stunned.

“Yes. Then you’d have to file a claim with us, and we’d investigate it. If everything worked out, you’d get the money back in five to seven business days.”

“Uh-huh.” I was too floored to argue the inanity of it with her. “What about the future? Can I put some sort of filter on my account, that checks more than say, the amount of my rent every month should warrant some sort of phone call or other check in?”

“We can’t do that,” she said.

“So, wait– let me get this straight. When I bought my ticket to Hawaii on my debit card a couple of years ago, and Citibank called me within a few hours to make sure that was me doing that… that you can handle. But a piece of paper, that just completely befuddles Citibank’s systems.”

She shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Is there anything I can do to protect myself at all?”

“Well,” she sighed. “You should probably close this checking account because they have the information now, and open up a new one.”

“I think that’s an excellent idea!” I exclaimed. “In fact, I’m going to close all of my accounts with Citibank when I come back, and move everything over to a credit union where I at least stand a chance of someone giving a crap about what happens to me and my money. Thank you!”

I’m actively taking suggestions for credit unions in Brooklyn that folks are happy with. I’d always wanted to join the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union when I lived there, but perhaps because one of my employers is still there, I might still get in. Leave thoughts, prayers, suggestions and other tidibits in the comments.

PS– Extra credit kicker: went to the precinct to file a claim, and they told me Citibank has to give me an affadavit saying that the check is indeed fraudulent. “But I don’t think Citibank either believes me or cares that it’s fraudulent,” I said to the officer. She shrugged and repeated herself. Extreme bureaucracy might be the death of me. It might end up being the number one cause of death someday soon. I can see the Times headline: “Extreme Bureaucracy Kills Nearly 13,000,000 Every Year In US.” Or maybe there’ll be a new diagnosis soon called “Customer Service Rage.” What would that headline be? “Customer Service Rage Blamed in Destruction of Local Bank.”

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  • jackilugg

    1. Who clicks on these tags anyway?
    2. The LES CU sounds like the beginning of the People’s Front of Judea, NY Sect. Also the Judean People’s Front, Sect in NY.
    3. This sucks. Someone took money from me electronically several months ago and TD (was Commerce) remedied it immediately, but I still had to go to a branch. Something about verifying my identity, blah blah blah. ;)
    4. My theft was only about $36, so I’ll shut up.
    5. Really, this sucks. I’m sorry. :-(

  • WolfZ3

    First, a consumer advocate I listen to on the radio has the perfect term for those knuckleheads: “Customer No-Service”.

    Second, I know you’re looking for a local CU, but if all else fails I can probably get you in mine from my military days. Also, check out for latest rates.

    Third, I’ll shoot you an e-mail or give you a call (or call me) so we can go over some other things that need to be done.

    Big Brother

  • amanda

    Not to pop your LESPFCU bubble or anything but they get the special wacky prize for *consistently* taking my membership fee out of my savings account, in which I kept the minimum balance ($25) necessary to get free checking. Membership fee would knock me down to $20, triggering fees for my no longer free checking. It was more than a little infuriating. They also weren’t really that much nicer about the whole thing. So don’t get your hopes up.

    It sounds like Citibank could have handled it better — a little “oh shit, that sounds awful. Listen, I know this isn’t what you want to hear but in the case of a fraud like this you have to report it in person.” goes a long, long ways.

    I know that there are people out there with credit card problems, but this is exactly why I use credit cards and not my debit card. If someone gets ahold of my credit card number and runs up a million fraudulent charges, it is not my problem. I mean, I have to deal with it, but the charges stay in Visa limbo while I do and the issue comes down to Visa vs. the merchant who accepted the card.

    Your bank account info is a lot more precious.

  • lana

    well they cashed a check in my name to a person with a totally different name for almost 6,000. and i have had nothing but a bunch of crap from them..god they are screwed up..there was no ID produced from me who the check was pay to the order of..and the other person just had a account to put it in and did where was that persons name on the check but she signed my name and pay to the order of her on the ID asked for or shown..and they say I have to fight for it back..damn almost $6,000 and they even say they would never even do that..well how come its been a year and they still haven’t paid my money back? it was my grandfathers life insurance settlement to me from when he passed away..they are NO HELP..

  • amy

    deanna, I am not sure if you are still on this blog or not, but I had to respond.

    Your blog came up in my Google search of ‘citibank fraud’. Since my husband recently had credit card fraud on his citibank sears card. Nothing major (thank goodness) and yes, credit card fraud is a lot easier to deal with than debit card fraud.

    I have never owned a debit card, and never will. I will tell you why – it is like inviting the world to have access (DIRECT ACCESS) to your checking/savings account! No thanks. I stick to credit cards, which I pay off fully, each month – no interest, no fees, no penalties. But then again, I pay attention to what I am spending and am able to cover my charges every month with no problem (I am frugal – and anal! lol).

    I understand the concept behind debit cards and I understand why people use them. There are people who just should not have credit cards, the temptation is too much to spend and spend, and then just pay the minimal payment each month, and then before you know it, whoosh, you are 55 years old and have $30K in debt on your credit cards! Not good. so yes, debit cards are sometimes a godsend and a must-have, for people who cannot keep track of their credit card spending, or , have a hard time paying off their c/c each month – fully. Hard to write that ‘big check’ each month! Easier to pay the minimal amount. But me, being totally resistant to owing ANYONE money, I have no problem paying off my credit card each month. (and I only have one credit card).

    You have probably resolved your issue by now (it is now November) and if so, can you update and let us know? lol. What did you decide to do?

    I was going to suggest to you to go the credit card route, instead of the debit card route. I hate the fact that *anyone* out there can have *any* access whatsoever to my personal checking or savings accounts. I do not even do “online payment” of my bills – I still write them out by hand! lol — because I just do not want the hassles, as you so humorously wrote about, of doing fraud reports and police reports and affadavits and all that nonsense. If someone wants to steal from my checking/savings, they will have to do it via hacking into someone’s (my utility company, my cel phone provider, my bank) computers and getting my bank information that way. They will never get it from a debit card. I also keep all my bank statements, I never throw them in the trash.

    So while “electronic convenience” in this day and age is very nice, I do not mind going into my bank, in person, to get cash, and I do not mind writing out checks by hand (still). I know – I am antiquated. I do not know if I will ever catch up to the 21st century, haha. I am only 45 by the way. So I should be into all this technology and electronic crapola, but I am not. I was also a software engineer for a couple of decades. I know how systems can be hacked, I know how software programs can have a ton of loopholes and black holes and glitches! I do not trust any computer program (even encryption) within an inch of my life. That being said, yes I have a credit card. But oh well, I need that convenience.

    The credit card companies seem very quick to notice fraudulent purchases and they shut down the c/c right away until they get ahold of you.

    If you have a very busy, hectic life and cannot manage the time to write your own bills (no online payment, no debit card) or go to the bank to get cash (I have no ATM card either), then you are kinda stuck with the online payment and debit card thing.

    Anyways besides blabbering non stop, the other reason I wanted to reply is because I found your writeup very humorous and wanted to tell you so! I like your style. I am just sorry you had to go through all that. I think this is going to be “the way life is” from now on — since everything is going electronic and online-ish.

    cheers! I hope you are having better days!

  • kelly

    In 2008, a guy I was dating decided he would steal my debt card number to pay a few of his bills, and steal a check, forge my name, and cash it for $1000. Besides the devestation of betrayal , I am attempting (still in 2010) to prosecute this man going thru the Suffolk county Assistant DA In Boston,Ma.
    Citibank gave me the funds 3 months later, and has no intention of prosecuting the man.The amount taken was appro. $1300, which is a felony but would cost the bank more in attorneys fees to prosecute.
    The case means nothing to assistant DA, she isnt prepared for court when in court,doesnt show up at times or notify me, doesnt schedule appointments as promised to the court, or even return my phone calls.
    I was told that its a first offense and nothing would happen anyway at one point.
    The guy works in Security for the State of Massachusettes, and is in the US Air Force.
    Our system is a disgrace.

  • trini

    WOW!!! I found this by doing a “citibank fraud” search. The ONLY difference is the amount. My debit card was stolen and the criminal shopped and bought money orders (all within an hour) to the tune of nearly $9,000. This happened on August 3 and I’m still battling with Citibank. Same run around with customer no-service. I’m going to report them to the FBI and Attorney General.

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