Imagine Tony Valenzuelas surprise when he saw that $30,000 had gone missing from his checking account.
Valenzuela lends private capital to real estate interests in the Tacoma area. He typically carries a strong balance in his account. The large figures dont scare him unless money disappears.
Holy smokes! he remembers saying to himself on that recent Friday afternoon. This cant be right.
Eight suspicious transactions began with a withdrawal of $300.
It went through, then they did another for a thousand, and it didnt get caught, then one for $3,000, and they ramped up for the last one for $9,300, Valenzuela said.
After reading his statement and catching his breath, he called his bank Columbia Bank in Tacoma. Within a few minutes, he drove to his local branch.
A banker checked the records and found the withdrawals had been facilitated through a major national bank Capital One. After speaking with a handful of offshore customer service representatives, Valenzuela and the banker spoke with a representative who explained, Valenzuela said, Theres nothing they can do. They said call the FBI, send us a police report, a letter from your bank. They gave me a fax number and that was it.
Valenzuela discovered that all the scammers needed was his account number and the routing number for the local bank that held the account.
Thats it. No secret codes, no PIN number, no mothers maiden name. However, it can be an involved process once a would-be thief obtains these numbers.
Valenzuela immediately changed his account number.
He said Capital One would not reveal by what circumstance or by whom the withdrawals were made.
A spokeswoman for Columbia Bank confirmed, It is possible to commit fraud with only a routing and account number, which are printed on customers checks.
She continued, People need to understand that they need to keep tabs on their account, and look at what the activity is. A spokesman for Capital One was not available for comment.
A representative for Columbia Bank said Valenzuelas loss would be refunded following an investigation. What happened to him is not uncommon.
It absolutely does happen, said Shayna Burneister, director of outreach for the Washington Coalition of Crime Victim Advocates. It absolutely is true that all they need is a routing number and an account number.
She recommends that people check their accounts regularly, and regularly check their credit report with one free report yearly from each of three national credit agencies through annualcreditreport.com.
She also recommends that should you become a victim of this fraud you should indeed file a police report then notify your financial institutions banks and credit card providers of the situation.
Also, she advised, victims should notify the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) and the State Attorney General (atg.wa.gov).
Above all, to prevent a significant loss, people should check their account balances regularly.
Thats what Tony Valenzuela does.
Every two hours.
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535