Identity Theft

Kate McMillan (a/k/a the “Other” Kate) reports a seeming bank scam that wasn’t actually a bank scam.

“Hello, is this Catherine McMillan? This is *The Bank. We have a problem with one of your accounts.”


“But first I need to verify your identity. What is your date of birth and phone number?”

And it actually was the bank.

When I moved to Northern Virginia, I opened an account with Bank of America because there are numerous branch offices locally, they have free Internet banking, and it’s a worldwide outfit so I could get help anywhere. While I’ve generally been pleased with them, one of the major downsides of having mega corporations handling banking and such is that everything is quite impersonal. While I was waiting for my direct deposit got set up, I deposited a couple of paychecks into the ATM. Within days, I had the check returned to me. I finally went to the bank and it turned out that the check was to “James Joyner” but the account was in the name “James H. Joyner, Jr.” and, even though it was a For Deposit Only transaction into my own account, they wouldn’t honor it because they had experienced numerous cases of fraud with, I guess, sons trying to deposit their fathers’ checks. I told them I’d been banking–and using ATMs–for eighteen years and never had that problem before and was told that it was because I was a new customer. Ironically, I had theoretically been a BoA customer for fifteen years, as the little account I started at a military bank in Fort Sam Houston, Texas had been acquired first by NCNB and then BoA. But the local branch of BoA didn’t recognize the “military banks” as actually being part of BoA. Amazing. I wound up having to add several aliases to the account to avoid the problem.

A related thing that annoys me is that when I call my credit card companies to deal with an issue, I always have to punch the six hundred digit card number into the automated system. What’s the first question they ask when I finally get to a human operator? My card number.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. When I first moved to Northern Virginia, I started using my existing Navy Federal Credit Union account as my primary banking vehicle. At the time, my employer was still only paying by check, so it was a real PITA to go down to Vienna to deposit the check. I soon started looking for a broader-based bank that would be more convenient to me. I noticed that Chevy Chase Bank had an ATM in the Safeway in CountrySide and a branch in Cascades, and for a relatively small, independent bank, they seemed to be fairly technologically advanced, as well as having fees that were pretty good. That seemed like the way to go.

    Now here we are, seven years later, and I’ve never regretted that decision. Even though they took the ATM out of the Safeway, there are three at the branch in Cascades, one in the Giant in Cascades, as well as three at the new branch they put in Potomac Run Shopping Center, across Rt 7 from Cascades. And when I’m traveling around the DC metropolitan area, it seems as though there’s a Chevy Chase ATM everywhere you look.

    So, if you ever start thinking you want to dump BoA, you might consider Chevy Chase.

  2. keith taylor says:

    I called my bank’s customer service line a few months back, and they told me they would send me a PIN code in the mail that I could quote next time I called, ostensibly to avoid the process of reciting my long card number, date of birth and inside leg measurement.

    3 months later and I still haven’t received the PIN code. I try to phone them to ask them to send it and…

    “Please enter your 4 digit PIN code to access this service.”

  3. Mark Hasty says:

    My cable company wants me to write my account number on my checks. Said account number is nineteen digits long. I dropped them a little note saying that I just can’t write that small. Never heard back from them.

    You would think that any business would realize an account number shouldn’t just be convenient for them.

  4. Mike Wink says:

    And, why do the BofA ATMs ask you whether you want English or Spanish? Can’t your preference of language be encoded on the card?

  5. jen says:

    I just called my bank (Navy Federal Credit Union) this morning to discuss a problem. I punched in the requisite numbers and waited on hold for a little bit. Once a person got on the line all he asked for was the last 4 of my SSN and my birthdate to verify my identity. And he solved my problem lickety-split.

    Jalal, you should have stuck with NFCU – I do all my banking with them via ATM (there are a lot of them in NoVA now) or online and I’ve never had a problem.

  6. jen says:

    I realized that my comments may seem contradictory. The problem I had with my bank was my own error in initiating a double payment to the power company. I needed to stop payment on one of them. It wasn’t a bank error.

  7. SwampWoman says:

    Yep, nothin’ like typin’ that long account number and then having to repeat it to every customer service rep that I get passed around to…that is, if I ever get through the automated touch tone system that never has the option on the menu that I am searching for.

  8. joy says:

    I was once a BofA takeover customer too after they bought out NationsBank. Not fun at all. I made sure to switch my banking after that.

    As far as bank customer service goes, however, I think that USAA is tops. The only problem is that I don’t feel comfortable using them as my only bank since their physical presence is in Texas for the most part.

  9. Kate says:

    Here was my thought when I looked at what they were doing – I live in small town Saskatchewan. Virtually everyone has listed phone numbers, so getting a name and phone number isn’t a problem.

    There are only two banks in town. Easy to confirm through the phone book as well. Go down the resident list, phone and tell them that you are their bank (have the bank’s 800 number at the ready if they prefer to “call you back themselves”). Ask for their phone number (duh) and their birthdate.. and then make an excuse, “oh, I see the problem has been rectified…” hang up.

    Now you have what you need to call their bank as them, and you have the “security” info they’ll ask for.

    What that will allow you to do, I don’t know. change a mailing address? The agent who discussed my account status certainly was willing to talk about the details of when I had made deposits, etc.

    I should probably try and see how far I can get into my own account, without having to provide something more.

  10. Jen, unfortunately NFCU doesn’t have any ATMs in Loudoun County, AFAIK. The closest one is in Reston, which isn’t too bad. But for physical presence, it’s just ultra-inconvenient to head into Vienna to visit them. On top of that, the lines are almost always pretty long.

    I never get rid of credit union memberships, so I use Navy Federal when appropriate, mostly to organize and segregate my funds. Besides, I’ve always been happy with Chevy Chase, so I’ve got no reason to dump them.

  11. Jim says:

    I am a PFCU member. It has been the best. The rates for loans are low and as long as you have a direct deposit there are no fees for checking accounts. There aren’t very many branches (one negative) but considering I banked with them in Germany, Colorado, Norfolk and now in Northern Virginia I can’t complain. I solved the problem about taking money out….I go to Giant, buy a coke and pay by Debit Card. No transaction fee 🙂

  12. Paul says:

    I have one account at a “major” bank but I moved my company and one checking account to a smaller local bank.

    The week after I did I paid myself $5000. The bank put a hold on my personal account because it was a large check from me (my company) to me. But they knew the check was good because they had both accounts!

    That blew me away.

  13. Scott Harris says:

    The quickest way to get directly to a customer service agent with the credit card companies is to never enter any information when prompted. They prompt you a second, and sometimes a third time, and then ask you to hold for the next available agent – the same result of going through 15 different prompts and entering data multiple times. So unless you only want information that is automated, bypass the automated system by refusing to enter data. Its less time consuming, and much less stressful.

  14. Scott Harris says:

    Anyone seen the new emails from “credit card companies” prompting you to verify your account by entering your username and password. Don’t go there. Close out the email, call the fraud department, and forward the email to them. Only enter username and password info into websites when you initiated the transaction. Email prompts for username and password info are fishing trips by crooks.