Phantom withdrawals leave pensioner broke
Maureen Marud - Cape Argus Classified 17 May 2002
Pensioner Eleanor Adams of Valhalla Park says she is penniless after someone making ATM withdrawals stole R25 000 of what was left of her R55 000 retrenchment package.
She is not alone. Similar complaints about "phantom withdrawals" have prompted the banking Adjudicator to announce a special investigation.
In his annual report for 2001, released last week, the adjudicator describes as "a continuing source of frustration" complaints about money vanishing from accounts belonging to people who still had their bank cards, and who had never disclosed their personal identity number to anyone.
Adams says she changed her PIN after she discovered about R16 500 missing from her bank account, but it made no difference. The withdrawals continued until nothing was left.
She told Argus Action her bank card was always in her possession, and she had memorised her new PIN before chewing up the piece of paper it was written on.
The theft and stress of it all contributed to her health breaking down. " I have become diabetic since this happened, but now can't even afford the food I must eat. Many times I go without any food at all".
Adams, who worked as a ribbon roller in a factory for 18 years, deposited her retrenchment package into her account at the Maitland branch of First National Bank in July, withdrawing R20 000 seven days later.
Without her knowledge, R500 was withdrawn at an ATM the next day, and R1 000 every day for the following two weeks until August 2, when she withdrew R500 and noticed she had only about R9 000 left.
Adams immediately changed her PIN when the bank assured her nobody could make ATM withdrawals without her card and PIN.
"I thought my money was safe when I changed the PIN, but when I tried to draw money about a week later, nothing was left. As well as being confused and shocked, Adams said she was disappointed at the bank. "I entrusted my money to the bank. The people who work there are supposed to look after it. Instead, they let it go astray, and nobody had answers to give me." When the remaining balance disappeared, she went to the police.
Adams, who also lives alone in a Wendy House in her son's yard, says neither he nor her three daughters and two grandchildren in his house have ever had access to her card or PIN.
Her estranged second husband "didn't even know I had a bank account". She is convinced the theft is "an inside job".
Ann Bramhill, media manager at First National Bank, says the bank's investigations show only two cards were issued on Adam's account, one when it was opened, and the replacement on August 2.
Apart from two branch withdrawals, all withdrawals were made at Saswitch ATM's using either one of the cards.
Withdrawals by customers showed on the computer records as being made either over the counter or via a ATM, said Bramhill.
"If a staff-member had transferred the money from the account it would show as a manual transaction. A staff member would have had to have the card and PIN to make the withdrawals at a ATM".
No two cards bearing the same number were ever produced.
"We are still trying to ascertain which branch issued the first card to ensure it was issued legitimately and everything concerning this account is correct. However, we are able to prove the withdrawals were made using the correct card and the issued PIN
"There is no other method of withdrawing funds from an ATM and we are inevitably drawn to the conclusion that the PIN was known to one of the other household members who was able to take the card and access the account.
Adams says she is not giving up hope. "I will keep praying and I am positive I will get back what is mine".
Police captain Swys Kotze of Maitland detective services says the theft is being investigated.