Federal authorities say Zions Bank, First Bank of Delaware, and regional banks across the country are serving as gateways between "dubious Internet merchants and their marks" and hurting older Americans in the process, The New York Times reported Monday.
Newly unsealed court documents reviewed by the paper show that banks "profit handsomely by collecting fees while ignoring warnings of potential fraud and, in some instances, enabling dubious merchants to prey on consumers," Jessica Silver-Greenberg wrote.
In the case of Bruno Koch, 83, Koch divulged bank account information during a phone call with National Health Net Online, where he was asked if he would like to update his health insurance card. According to The New York Times, Koch's account was debited by National Health, which paid an intermediary, Modern Payments, for processing the transaction. Modern Payments then gave its bank, Zions, a cut of its fee.
"In all, Zions in effect let roughly $39 million be withdrawn from hundreds of thousands of accounts from 2007 to 2009," the story said. "Much of that money was ultimately transferred to bank accounts in Canada, India and the Caribbean, according to a Times review of court records."
"Zions takes seriously the need to prevent the banking system being used for fraudulent purposes; however, it is our general policy not to comment on pending legal matters," James R. Abbott, director of investor relations for Zions, told The New York Times. "There is another side to this story, other than that told by the plaintiff. Our side of the story will be told at the appropriate time through the legal system."
First Bank of Delaware, which was accused of allowing merchants to illegally debit accounts and siphon off more than $100 million, reached a $15 million a settlement with the Justice Department last November.
Federal officials say the First Delaware case should act as a warning for the banking industry, and that banks need to know their customers and their customers' customers in order to protect Americans.