Fraud is a crime that, unfortunately, is on the increase.
Local business owners Steve Brady and Mick Gordon and Tracy Robinette have fallen victim to this growing statistic this year.
And a quick resolution to their situation has not materialized, leaving them all not only frustrated, but wondering what or what else can they do.
In early April, Brady and Gordon, owners of Checkered Flag Fast Oil Change, and Robinette, owner of Designing Images, separately noticed that a charge to their bank accounts when they received their monthly statements was not something they allowed. The transactions in question took place in March.
Obviously, this raised a red flag in their minds. And the fees were $20,000 and $19,500 respectively, very high monetary amounts that are not close to normal for their day-to-day operations.
Months later, no one knows where that money is.
Immediately after seeing the fraudulent transactions, both companies filed police reports and also contacted their bank. In this case, each works with the First National Bank of Pennsylvania.
Shortly after, in a chance meeting, Gordon and Robinette met at another local entity and discussed their issues, discovering that they were both victims of the same name in their statements.
The activity in question was listed with a company known as “Having It INC, Sale”. A quick internet search of that name or anything like it turns up nothing.
Subsequent follow-ups with First National Bank about finding a solution, including refunding funds that were not authorized to be withdrawn, were unsuccessful, so much so that FNB officials told residents that there would be more in-person discussions on the subject.
First National Bank is sticking to federal regulations that require business account holders to report fraudulent electronic payments or suspected ACH transactions within 24 hours, while personal account holders would have up to 60 days. to contest a charge.
That said, Robinette said she was unaware of any such First National policy, despite having held an account with the institution for more than 25 years. And in some of the documents she received, it says that unauthorized activity can be reported up to 30 days before, leading to confusion about what is what.
As small business owners, they have to juggle multiple tasks throughout the day to maintain their operations, so round-the-clock monitoring of finances is not always an easy task.
And given that they are longtime account holders with First National Bank, with Gordon doing financial business there since the late 1970s, frustration has grown for them over customer service. .
“We immediately notified the FNB (when we received our statements) and were told that we only had 24 hours to notify them of the fraud so they could return the funds,” Robinette said. “We had never been informed by the bank of this policy. These transactions far exceeded any that have ever taken place in our accounts.
“And after 26 years as a customer, the one who was in the bank four to five times a week, they don’t want to talk to me anymore? We have entrusted FNB with the financial security of our businesses, and they have disappointed us greatly.
According to Robinette, First National Bank sent emails to JP Morgan Chase officials after tracing the origins of the transaction from Have It INC, Sale to there. The emails, sent about 90 days apart, went unanswered.
When contacted for comment, First National Bank Communications Director Jennifer Reel said the following:
“In general, any allegations of fraudulent activity are investigated by trained FNB professionals in accordance with all applicable federal regulations and our processes and timelines. If necessary, the team also involves third parties, such as law enforcement and other banks that may be involved in the transaction, which can unfortunately prolong the investigation process.
Reel added that due to client confidentiality, details related to the case could not be released.
On Friday, Jerry Dubrowski, general manager of communications at JP Morgan Chase’s New York headquarters, said he was not immediately aware of the correspondence from First National Bank, but added that he would continue to follow up. look into the matter.
Between their dealings with First National Bank, Gordon and Robinette also filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, the state attorney general’s office and the Comptroller of the Currency.
Gordon also spoke with local state representative Jesse Topper, and in a follow-up phone conversation, Topper told the Gazette that his powers were limited to being more of an information and direction guide. due to the federal nature of banking regulations.
In a request for comment, Jacklin Rhoads of the Attorney General’s Office said the Consumer Protection Bureau’s Mediation Authority cannot act on business-to-business transactions, only those between an individual consumer and a business.
“Our office has only civil remedies, and our office’s Criminal Division does not have primary jurisdiction over these types of matters absent a referral from the local district attorney,” Rhoads added. “We encourage anyone who sees this type of banking activity to report suspicious transactions directly to the FBI.”
Gordon was referred to the FBI, to whom he provided information but has yet to hear back on the status.
When contacted by phone, FBI Special Agent Sakura Okuri from the Pittsburgh Regional Office could not detail details of an investigation, or say whether the case was still open.
Overall, the number of fraud cases in many varieties has steadily increased in recent years. Federal Trade Commission data shows reports of fraud rose 19% in 2021 over previous years, resulting in total financial losses for US individuals and businesses of just over $6 billion. dollars.
First National Bank was involved in a recent case in neighboring Somerset County. In June, the county Treasury Department wired $11,295 to a person claiming to be a county official. When a second request for the money, this one for just over $23,000, was made, suspicions arose as to who was asking for the funds, and FNB froze the initial transfer.
At the end of October, this investigation is ongoing and the money is due to be returned to Somerset County this month.
With what they believe to be few options to turn to, Brady, Gordon and Robinette are still hoping for a positive resolution as well as the spread of their story to other businesses and the community at large.
“We just want First National Bank to do the right thing in banking customer service and give our money back,” Robinette said.
“If your money isn’t safe in the bank, where is it safe?” Gordon added.