Then the thief immediately filed a change of address on "my" account, so all my mail from E*Trade would go to a local hotel, "attention: Wil Shipley, Check-in 4/1".
The miscreant then ordered an E*Trade debit card, which was supposed to be shipped to "my" new address: the hotel. However, unfortunately for the would-be thief, (a) E*Trade sent me a paper mail confirmation of the change-of-address, which alerted me (and was the only thing E*Trade has done right in this entire story), and (b) E*Trade actually didn't process the change of address in a timely manner, so the debit card and its PIN went to me. Sorry, Mr. e-Criminal! No cash for you!
I called E*Trade on March 17th after getting the change-of-address notice and the shiny new debit card for an account I didn't open, and, after TWICE waiting on hold for THIRTY minutes to talk to an actual person (because, GASP, I didn't have my account number handy when I called), I finally spoke to a guy named Matt M., who is most definitely NOT in their "Risks" group, which is what they call the people at E*Trade who spend their days busily ignoring fraud.
I told Matt my story, gave him the phoney E*Trade account's number, and he mentioned that there was $5,000 in the account. "What?" I said. That makes no sense! "What account did it come from?" Oh, we have no way of knowing that. "REALLY? YOU HAVE NO WAY? MONEY JUST APPEARS IN ACCOUNTS THERE, AND YOU GUYS HAVE NO RECORDS?"
I checked my accounts, but I didn't see any missing $5,000, so I had no idea what kind of scam this thief was running. Was he giving *me* money? "Here, here's $5,000 in an account in your name, and here's a cash card! Go to town!"
Matt said he'd freeze it immediately. I started regretting this within an hour, which is a feeling that would increase as E*Trade screwed me slowly over the next several months.
Matt said he would have someone in the "Risks" group contact me, because you can't just call those guys -- they call you. Ok, fine, I said. I mentioned (again) that the criminal was going to check his mail at the local hotel on April 1, and that that might be an EXCELLENT day for them to have the FBI waiting. Assuming the account-freezing didn't scare him off, which it did.
After speaking to Matt I called Equifax and the other credit-monitoring bureaus, who are very professional and share information with each other, so all I really had to do was call one, and they all told each other to watch out for unusual crap with my name attached to it. I also called the USPS and filed a wire fraud claim, to which the federal government replied in a confidence-inspiring way by sending my seven identical e-mails confirming that they'd gotten my report. (And that was all I've heard from them...)
I also called my bank and told them to watch out for anything unusual, in all my accounts. Finally, I called the hotel, and left voicemail explaining the situation and telling them to call the cops if some Wil Shipley doppleganger appears and asks for his mail.
Slow-forward to April 20th, when my assistant is reconciling my *business* account (yes, Delicious Monster) and it turns out that $5,000 is missing. Hmm! So that's where the money came from -- I thought this was an attack on my personal funds. Silly me.
So I call the bank, and I ask them how them how I can have $5,000 missing when I never wrote a check or anything. I spoke to Stacey P. in the bank's fraud group (after being transferred twice), and she patiently explained that, in fact, the bank will transfer money to anyone with the correct three pieces of information about me and an account in my name at some other institution.
Let me say that again. ANYONE can call the bank and say, "Hi, I'd like to make an ACH transfer from this account to this other account at a different financial institution of ill-repute, and I swear I'm really Wil Shipley," and they'll do it. Just like that. There's no password, no signature, no record.
"Really?! REALLY? REALLY? IS THIS REALLY HOW IT WORKS?"
They advised me to change my bank account number, since, obviously, I can't change my name or SSN, and the thief already knows those. I'm all, "But, uh, that's just, like, a little number. It's not even a secret password. It's printed on every piece of mail you send me, and EVERY FUCKING CHECK I WRITE!" (Which, incidentally, also have my name on them, so basically all anyone has to do is find my SSN, which is used by every damn organization in the world to identify me, and they're good to go.)
Oh, it's ok, cooed, the fraud lady, because the VISA guys have built-in fraud protection, so they'll pay you back the money. Just hold on a second...
...Oh, hi, I'm back, no we won't. It's been over 60 days since they stole the money, so we don't give a damn. Sorry.
WHAT?! But I told you guys a month ago my identity had been stolen!
"Oh, well, there's a federal law, see...."
Now, I may be an idiot, but I'm going to guess the federal law does NOT say, "Hey, VISA, don't re-imburse people who didn't discover they had money stolen after 60 days!" I'm going to guess that, in fact, what it says is, "Hey, VISA, you are required to re-imburse people in the first 60 days, damn you, because we're tired of this crap." If there even IS a federal law, that is. I didn't actually get the law number.
"Well, just contact E*Trade and have them transfer back the money!" But, E*Trade claims they have no idea where it came from! "That's impossible -- E*Trade is the one who initiated the ACH transfer, at the request of the fake Wil Shipley. They must know!"
I immediately called Matt B. at E*Trade again and left him a message, since it'd been over a month and no one from E*Trade's risks group had contacted me. I'd like to point out even the HOTEL had called me back at this point. But not E*Trade. One thing E*Trade apparently didn't expect is I keep detailed logs of all phone calls I make of this sort, so if there's any problem later I can refer back to exact events and people and dates. Surprise!
Seven days later (April 27th) I called E*Trade again, and finally got a call back from Gary S., who I initially thought was in the risks group, but now I'm not so sure. He said, "I don't see the problem, you have your money, what do you want?" I pointed out that I did not, in fact, have my money. He was all, "Sure you do." I pointed out that I had the bank account in front of me, and the money was not in it.
"Oh, hold please..." Minutes later, he returned, slightly chagrined, and said they oddly had NOT released the funds, but that he would do so and call back the next day. CONFIDENCE INSPIRING!
"Can I have your direct number, so I can talk to you next time?" Oh, no, you can't -- we don't give out the numbers of people in the Risks group. (You know, because if we did, then angry customers who've had their money stolen could, you know, get it resolved.)
Hey, guess what two events did NOT happen on April 28th!
On May 15th I called Matt at E*Trade again, and left a slightly angrier message. I'd like to point out that up to this point I hadn't raised my voice at anyone. This message said, in part, it's been two months since I told you that you guys had my stolen money, and you still have my money, and you're making interest on it, and if I don't get my money inside of a week I'm going to call the FBI and tell them that you've generated an illegal transfer and won't release my funds back to me, and we'll see what they have to say.
Matt called me back the same day and left me an apologetic message! Hey, the Dark Side is faster! Matt said that my bank should just "reverse the ACH," as that'd be the simplest way to go. I called my banker and she wasn't familiar with that, but said she'd look into it. She called the next day and left a message saying, "Why doesn't E*Trade just credit your account?"
I finally got hold of Matt yesterday (May 16th) and we spoke for a while, and he indicated that they didn't know where they funds were from and weren't sure how to verify my identity at this point. "Matt," I said, "you KNOW the funds are from my business account. All I'm asking is you put them back from where you got them. Whether or not I'm the REAL Wil Shipley doesn't even matter, in this case! Just undo the damage you did! Put the money back from where you took it!"
He said he couldn't do this, because they needed to know, uh, mumble, something about who initiated the initial transfer, and, besides, the account was locked, and they couldn't transfer funds from locked accounts. "Well, uh, I'm guessing those rules are E*Trade's rules, not, say, immutable laws of the universe, and I'm guessing there is SOMEONE there who can do whatever and bypass whatever, and I want the money back."
Matt said he'd have someone in the Risks group call me. I indicated I'd heard this many times over several months, but that even poor, under-informed Gary didn't appear to really be from the Risks group (he had said something like, "I'll check with Risks and get back to you" at one point, although I admit I could be mistaken on this, my notes aren't perfectly clear here).
This brings us to today. E*Trade still has $5,000 of my money, plus the interest they've earned on it. Unsurprisingly, I haven't gotten a call from anyone in their Risks group today. In fact, so far E*Trade has indicated NO intention to actually make any effort to undo what they've done, have repeatedly told me they'd get back to me and failed to do so, have followed NO leads to actually find who stole my identity (he was going to show up at the hotel!), have apparently not called any authorities about this. In general their attitude is, "Well, good luck solving this on your own! We're pretty happy where we are, actually, since, you know, we make interest on that money of yours."
I'm not impressed, E*Trade. You've got five days.
Update: A most-helpful G. Wong, from the E*Trade "Fraud Unit" (I'm not sure why everyone else there called it the "Risks Unit") called me on the 18th and stepped me through what normally happens in cases like mine (and did not happen in this case); he said he has worked with Bank of America many times on fraud and normally BofA knows what to do, but in this case he felt the bank didn't handle it correctly, and E*Trade had been, I guess, waiting for the bank to figure it out. I'm not in a position to assign blame, so I'm just reporting what I've been told.
He promised to work with my bank and to actually call my business banker, which he did! He also followed up with me a few days later to let me know things were in process. I admit I don't have notes from this latter call because I was just woken up, so he may have, at that time, said that the money was back, but I don't recall him saying so.
But, out of curiosity, I checked my account, and on the 22nd I was, FINALLY, credited the missing $5,000. Sure, I've lost the interest on that money, I've stressed about this for months, I've spent countless hours on the phone getting the wrong information from Bank of America and from E*Trade, and nobody from E*Trade returned my calls until I made a huge stink.
But in the end, things got put back in order. So, big ups to Mr. Wong, who did what was wight. (Couldn't resist!)