Wednesday, 30 April 2014

CIBC took my welfare

Bill is a good friend of mine. In March 2012 he developed a heart condition (atrial fibrillation) which made it impossible for him to continue his full-time job as a resident manager. After losing his job, he went on Medical Employment Insurance. His claim expired after only one year, at which time he was forced to rely on a meager welfare cheque (around $600) which doesn't even begin to cover his living expenses. Things went from bad to worse when Bill became the victim of an on-line scam which ended up with his bank, CIBC, gobbling up his welfare money. Bill and I think the public should know both about the scam and about the bank's abusive behavior. Also, the complete and criminal passivity of the Edmonton Police should also raise the eyebrows of many tax-payers. That outrageous apathy was equaled by the "vigilant" reporters of the Edmonton Journal, who didn't bother reporting or investigating this story, being too busy with their beer-tasting activities.

In the following I reproduce Bill's story, in his own words. Besides the questions he raises at the end, I want to add a few of mine: isn't taking someone's welfare morally equivalent to murder? and, aren't bankers criminals? Thinking what sorts of people could do such a thing makes you also wonder: are bankers people?

"My name is Bill Horner. Since I've started living on welfare in January 2014, I've been actively looking for a job. In late Feb. 2014 I applied for a job online to work as a Mystery Shopper.

On March 7th, 2014, I received an email from a company called "99Feedbacks Evaluation Services." They sent me a cheque on Mar. 13th, 2014 in the amount of $2,862 to perform several tasks at a local Walmart store: evaluate the cleanliness of the store, determine whether the associates in Electronics are knowledgeable and so on. In addition, Bob Stevens, the representative of the company, instructed me through the phone to withdraw $1,100 from the money I deposited. With this money I was asked to make a purchase of maximum $80 dollars in the Electronics department and then go to Walmart's customer service desk and pick up two Western Union money transfers. Then, still on the phone, Bob instructed me how to fill out the money transfers. I purchased the first transfer with the $1,000 dollars I had left. The transaction was completed successfully. Bob asked me to use my debit card for the second purchase but the transaction was declined because I exceeded my daily spending.
Bob said I could wait till next day to have the issue fixed with my bank.

Next morning, March 14th, 2014 I received a second cheque in the amount of $2,741 and started feeling uneasy and suspicious. Still, I went to CIBC and asked the Assistant Manager (Yvonne) if I could increase my daily spending limit on my debit card to $1,000 per day. She asked why? I replied that I was a Mystery Shopper. Her reply was, "Oh No." I gave her my bank card and the second cheque I had just received.

She entered my card number and said it was cancelled. Then she called Servus Credit Union where the account was with the name of the company Endura Inc. on the cheque. They informed her that the cheque was counterfeit. Her advice was to go to the Edmonton Police Service and file a report with them. Then she told me to make contact with my home CIBC branch. I immediately went to the EPS Strathcona Community Station and talked to an officer of Scottish descent. He made the comment to me that he would take my report but nothing more would happen as I was foolish enough to fall for this scam. I thought about this for a few days and then decided I should do more about it, as I was clearly the victim of a crime. I went to the RCMP in Edmonton. They told me that the capital city wasn't their jurisdiction and EPS should be looking after this.

The next day I went to EPS Downtown division and filed a report, then I proceeded to go to my bank (CIBC, Parkdale branch) to discuss this matter with the manager. I ended up talking to the assistant manager: Heather. I explained the situation to her and gave her all my documentation in regards to this matter, police report included. As I'm on Income Assistance (Welfare), I made a proposal to pay the money back in installments. She said a bank representative would contact me in the following days.

After several days of not hearing back from the bank I went back to them and was told that it was my responsibility to pay this money back in full immediately. They also advised I should go to Welfare to help me out.

On March 26th, 2014 welfare made a direct deposit into my CIBC account for my monthly support. CIBC immediately applied my income assistance to the outstanding balance, thus leaving me nothing to pay my rent or living expenses. My GST Rebate was also taken and applied to the outstanding balance, as well as my minimal royalty payment.

I believe that there is an injustice here that needs further investigation. I have been back to the bank several times as nobody seems to want to return my phone messages and I seem to be getting nowhere. Here are my questions: Are the police here to protect us or is our justice system failing us? I thought fraud was a criminal offense. The phone number I provided to the police and the bank was still in use after the alleged fraud for about two weeks, so obviously nothing has been done to stop Bob Stevens from scamming other people. Also, doesn't the CIBC bank teller share part of the blame? Why did she deposit the cheque as a payroll cheque without asking me what the cheque was for? After all, she was able to see my account activity with no such company cheque ever deposited before. Why did she not question it when I had a negative balance of $66, and yet I wanted to withdraw $1,100 from that deposit? And also, isn't CIBC already insured against such fraud?

I think there has been an injustice done here on the part of both the police department and the financial institution. I've been with CIBC for ten years. They told me that if I were employed they would grant me an overdraft to cover the outstanding balance. But, since I was on welfare, I wasn't able to enjoy that luxury. In their rush to cover their meager losses, CIBC seems to have forgotten that welfare is a guaranteed minimum income and that taking someone's welfare is like a death sentence. Last time I checked, they weren't hurting for money, posting billions of dollars in annual profits. Also, they've treated me as a criminal, not a victim of a criminal scam. In addition, I let them know I was willing to pay back the money in $100 monthly instalments. In spite of all this, CIBC showed no mercy. They brutally decided to suspend my account, seize any incoming funds and ask for immediate payment of the balance. They threatened they would close my account of I don't pay the outstanding balance within a month."

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