Winnie Zhang was sitting at home in February when she saw something off in her bank account—$940 was missing.
Zhang had withdrawn $20 at a Chase bank terminal two days earlier, on Feb. 16. Then she remembered a man standing by her who appeared to be watching as she used the machine. Spotting a large cash withdrawal with a time stamp that was just minutes after her withdrawal, she realized what had happened.
“That’s when it clicked,” Zhang said.
Zhang reported the fraud to the Mission District branch of Chase where the incident happened, only to be told the staff was aware of similar occurrences at the machine dating back several months.
“Probably four or five [similar incidents] in the past three to four months,” a Chase branch manager at the 2500 Mission St. location told The Standard. The manager, speaking anonymously, said they had seen the same three men standing around the branch's terminals at night.
“I heard from my colleagues that it started happening in September,” the manager said. “It’s really annoying. They’re taking money from innocent people.”
Zhang said she had tried to insert her card into the machine on the day of the fraud, only for it to be rejected from the slot. A man then approached her and told her to try tapping her card on the machine’s contactless card feature.
“I thought nothing of it. I just thought he was a nice guy,” Zhang said.
But when she visited the Chase branch weeks later, she said a security guard showed her a photo of the three men who would regularly loiter outside the machines. She recognized the “nice guy” instantly.
“It was him,” Zhang said.
Zhang filed a fraud complaint, only for Chase to refute it. She then filed a report with the San Francisco Police Department and contacted them several times, but was told that no investigator had been assigned to her case as of March 2, and that her case would not move forward until one was assigned.
“The police haven’t done anything,” Zhang said.
The department confirmed Zhang filed a report on Feb. 19 at the Bayview station and said that it was aware of other similar incidents at the same location.
The suspected ATM ruse starts when “victims attempt to insert their cards into a machine which has been jammed,” a police spokesperson said. “An unknown person nearby suggests tapping the card instead, leaving the victim's banking information vulnerable and subsequently subject to fraud.”
Chase later escalated her fraud claim with the bank, but only after she visited the branch in person on March 2.
Zhang finally got her money back around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“I’ve just been frustrated,” said Zhang, who works for the TogetherSF nonprofit. “I had to go through all of these hoops for a month to get it back. I know there are a lot of non-English speakers who can’t advocate for themselves.”
The branch is considering installing a vestibule to shelter the machines, and has also reported the complaints to the terminal’s manufacturer, the manager said.
“[We] have reimbursed our customer in full and are taking additional steps to protect customers. As always when using an ATM, protect your PIN number and make sure that you end your session before walking away,” a spokesperson said in an email.
Disclosure: Zhang works at TogetherSF, which is funded by venture capitalist Michael Moritz, who also funds the San Francisco Standard.
Garrett Leahy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org