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CASEY: Bank refunds $55,000 scammed from Augusta County couple's account

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waszaks, shannon and christian

Shannon Waszak, left, with her husband Christian. The Augusta County couple’s account at BBT/Truist Bank was recently scammed for more than $55,000. Friday, they got a refund.

Last we left the saga of Christian and Shannon Waszak, the Augusta County couple’s bank account at BBT/Truist was drained of more than $55,000 by a clever scammer who on Jan. 3 posed as a Truist customer service representative to gain access.

The bank promptly restored the couple’s lost funds via cashier’s check. But the check bounced when the couple deposited it into another bank. Then BBT/Truist told the Waszaks it was investigating.

Meanwhile, Christian, 38 and Shannon, 43, consulted a real estate agent about selling their home. They felt they needed its equity to keep Christian’s paintless dent repair business in Staunton going. He started that just last fall.

And they consulted a consumer attorney in Fairfax, Kristi C. Kelly, just in case. She’s a pistol.

That brings us up to Jan. 16, the day this newspaper published a column about the Waszaks’ plight. That morning, Christian sold the couple’s tractor on Craigslist so the couple would have some spending money.

But It turns out the Waszaks didn’t need an attorney. Or a real estate agent. They’re not selling the house. This past Friday, BBT/Truist refunded all their money for a second time. At least so far, the latter check hasn’t bounced.

The bank isn’t saying much.

“We always take potential fraud concerns raised by our clients very seriously, and work diligently to research and resolve these matters,” said Cynthia Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Truist. She added: “We can’t comment on this specific case due to privacy concerns.”

That’s more or less a canned statement, based on my long experience advocating on behalf of Truist’s many aggrieved clients. I’ve heard from customers in California, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Most of them I haven’t even written about.

The series of unhappy events that led to the Waszaks being swindled began Jan. 3, with a middle-of-the-night text message, ostensibly from Truist, to Shannon Waszak’s smartphone.

It appeared to question a $400 transaction on Amazon Marketplace, and asked Shannon to reply with the number 1 if the purchase was legitimate, or a 2 if it was not. She replied 2 and went back to sleep.

The next morning, she called their BBT/Truist branch, where a rep assured her there were no signs their accounts had been compromised. Near the end of that call, the spammer called Shannon’s phone, while spoofing (or electronically forging) the originating number to make it appear as if it was from Truist customer service.

Shannon dropped the call from the bank branch, and took the call from the “customer service rep.”

She was on the phone with him for more than an hour. During that call, Christian phoned the bank branch and told a clerk Shannon was talking to Truist customer service and gave them the number of the caller with whom Shannon was on the line.

The clerk confirmed to Christian that the number on Shannon’s phone was the Truist customer service line. Meanwhile, at the instructions of the scammer, Shannon read to him texted codes that Truist bank was sending to her phone.

Those actually were from Truist. They occurred as the scammer attempted to change the passwords on the Waszaks’ accounts. With those authentication codes, he was able to do it. Then he moved the $55,000 out in three wire transactions that took fewer than 30 minutes.

Minutes after their money was gone, the Truist branch called the Waszaks and confirmed there was a problem with their accounts.

The next day, the Truist branch wrote the couple a cashier’s check to make up for the losses. The Waszaks took that to Summit Bank and deposited it. Then a BBT/Truist official called the Wasaks and demanded they return the money.

When the Waszaks declined, Truist stopped payment on the check.

After the couple contacted yours truly, I reached out to Montgomery. She’s assisted a number of aggrieved BBT and SunTrust customers who’ve contacted me after their accounts were suddenly frozen and/or closed. (Those two banks have merged to form Truist.)

On Jan. 18 — two days after the article about the Waszaks appeared — a man who identified himself as a Truist “customer advocate” called Shannon. He gave her a special number she or Christian could call, if they needed to reach Truist.

The couple called their Truist branch immediately to confirm that call was actually from Truist and not another scammer. It was legitimate, a branch rep assured them. (But that’s also what the branch told the couple on Jan. 3, in the middle of the scam, as Christian called the branch trying to avoid being scammed.)

This past Friday, they got another call, this time from the Truist branch manager in Staunton. He informed them another Truist official, John Rankin, was trying to reach them.

The Waszaks called Rankin, who told them, “We have good news. We’re going to refund the money,” Shannon told me.

Truist later gave Christian two cashier’s checks. One represented the scammed money; the other was for another account the Waszaks had at the branch. They thought they’d already closed it.

There remain many questions outstanding.

Was Truist able to “claw back” all the money drained in those three wire transactions from the couple’s account? Or did the money it refunded the Waszaks come from the bank’s funds? That’s unclear.

Shannon said it appears, from documentation she and Christian received, that the bank was able to successfully reverse at least one of the wire transfers for roughly $3,000. But she’s seen no paperwork suggesting the other wire transfers were reversed.

Montgomery declined to reveal what Trust’s investigation found or any other details about it.

Neither I nor the Waszaks know definitively whether the Jan. 16 article had anything to do with the couple getting their money back.

It’s possible the bank would have decided they were due a refund without the negative publicity about the scam and the bounced cashier’s check Truist/BBT issued. It’s also possible the article prompted the bank’s action. Shining a bit of sunlight on these matters often seems to lead to quick and satisfactory resolutions.

The Waszaks, meanwhile, are waiting for the most recent Truist cashier’s checks to clear. As you can probably understand, they no longer take those instruments for granted.

Shortly after Christian deposited them at Summit Bank, Summit sent them a “notice of hold.”

It stated, “We have confidential information this check may not be paid,” Shannon said.

But she sounded confident that this time around, Truist would make good.

“Thank you for everything,” Shannon said.

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or dan.casey@roanoke.com. Follow him on Twitter@dancaseysblog.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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