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After uphill battle, bank refunds $12,000 to skimming victim

Jeremy Kirk | Aug. 31, 2012
The still photos captured by CCTV are fuzzy: a figure wearing a track suit, a pair of sneakers and a black hooded sweatshirt, standing at various cash machines in northern Sydney in the middle of the night.

He says bank personnel initially advised him to destroy his debit card and not to file a police report. But a subsequent letter from Commonwealth dated Aug. 15 cites the lack of a police report as one reason for rejecting his claim. He later filed a police report anyway, despite the reluctance of the police to accept it.

The letter says his refund was denied under sections 5.5 and 5.6 of the Electronic Funds Transfer Code of Conduct, a set of rules followed by Australian banks regarding payment system problems. The code gives wide leeway to banks when making decisions about fraud.

Commonwealth also said El-sayah's card was used with the correct PIN on the first attempt. "Entry of correct code at first attempt in an unauthorized transaction is a significant factor in determining liability," the letter states.

The bank also says that having a high withdrawal limit increases the liability consumers can have for fraud. El-sayah's limit was $2,000. The high total amount of the fraud was continually referenced by Commonwealth personnel when discussing his case, despite also telling him he was a victim of skimming.

After receiving the letter, El-sayah contested the decision more aggressively. When IDG News contacted Commonwealth's media office on Friday, spokeswoman Tracy Hicks said that "the number of transactions that took place is obviously an issue" and that the bank was obtaining CCTV footage.

On Monday, in a rare move, El-sayah was allowed to view still images taken by the cameras during some of the fraudulent withdrawals. The images, however, were of low quality, and the perpetrator's face was obscured by the hooded sweatshirt, El-sayah said.

Later on Monday, El-sayah was informed he would receive a refund. Had it not been for the increased pressure on the bank, "I don't think I would have gotten the refund," he said.

Commonwealth's Hicks declined to discuss El-sayah's case further on Tuesday, and the bank did not respond to an email requesting an interview with Commonwealth executives about its fraud policies.



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