News 5 Investigates: Bank finally returns money to fraud victim, saving her from eviction

Posted at 10:04 AM, Mar 30, 2017
and last updated 2018-08-09 12:06:10-04

All banks have policies to protect your money, especially when it comes to fraud and unauthorized transactions. Unfortunately, one Colorado Springs woman found out not all banks are willing to reimburse you — at least not right away.

Ranae Johnson lost nearly $6,000 after her grandson used her debit card to make dozens of online purchases.

She disputed the charges and immediately filed a police report, but neither could prepare her for what happened next: Johnson, a single grandmother, recently got served eviction papers.

“I have no place to go,” she said. “I seriously don’t.”

Johnson’s problems began after Christmas shopping at Walmart. At the checkout, her card was declined.

“I made a very small purchase and they wouldn’t authorize it,” Johnson said. “I said try again because I know there was plenty of money in the account.”

As it turns out, her grandson, 18-year-old Gavin Scarrow, wrote down her debit card number and made 80 online purchases totaling more than $5,600.

Johnson is disabled and has a hard time walking. She told News 5 she has given her grandson her card in the past to buy groceries across the street.

Because Johnson admitted giving Scarrow her card in the past, she said Guaranty Bank would only guarantee her she wouldn’t be getting a refund.

“Just because I gave him my card doesn’t mean I gave him permission to steal $6,000,” Johnson said.

Her grandson was formally charged with three felonies, but Guaranty Bank still refused to reverse the fraudulent charges.

In an emailed statement to KOAA News 5, Guaranty Bank CEO Paul Taylor said: “We complied with applicable law, regulation and the terms of our customer agreement. We acted well within our rights under both law and contract and have no further comment.”

We wanted a second opinion on Johnson’s case.

While Matt Gendron, Ent Credit Union EVP of Operations could not comment specifically on Johnson’s case, he did say most banks typically reimburse customers for unauthorized charges.

“We (at Ent) have a zero liability policy which means any transaction you don’t authorize, we will take care of that and reimburse you fully,” Gendron said.

If the disputed purchase takes more time to research, Gendron says they’ll usually issue a temporary credit pending the outcome of a detailed fraud investigation.

“The most important thing for us is to make sure our member is made whole as quick as possible,” Gendron said.

News 5 lead investigative reporter Eric Ross contacted management at Johnson’s apartment complex. A property manager promised us they have halted the eviction process so Johnson will no longer have to move.

Thursday morning, Guaranty Bank CEO Paul Taylor called News 5 and informed us they just refunded Johnson the money she lost.

However, Taylor said they were under no obligation to do so, citing the fact that Johnson did not do enough to “safeguard” her account when she gave out her card to a family member.

How can you avoid this situation? Ent provided News 5 with the following tips:

  1. Never give out your debit or credit card, even to a family member.
  2. Sign up for online statements and mobile banking alerts. Johnson did not have either at the time the fraudulent activity occurred. Mobile banking alerts allow you easy access to review large transactions, online purchases, and transactions made without a signature. Often times, banking members will catch fraudulent activity faster than members who only receive statements in the mail.
  3. Report fraudulent activity immediately! If you wait too long, you limit your chance of getting a full refund.
  4. In addition to immediately contacting your bank, file a police report and provide the case # to your financial institution. This will help the bank and police department work together to resolve your case.
  5. Always ask and get a copy of your financial institution’s terms and conditions, also referred to as their “customer agreement”. This agreement will often explain how to dispute unauthorized charges while explaining what transactions are covered under their policy.