Steve Gallant says he uses his Tangerine chequing account for small, gourmet purchases, like coffee, fast food and video games, via a Visa debit card.
So he got worried last December when he saw a series of transactions totaling $629.90 from an unknown source: T&TEC TBD.
The 47-year-old Calgarian immediately Googled the unknown initials.
They turn out to be referring to the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission – a legitimate organization – catching Gallant completely off guard.
“I don’t have an account with the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission or anything. I haven’t left the country in probably 10 years,” Gallant says.
“This is clearly a fraudulent transaction.”
Gallant immediately notified Tangerine of the six unapproved transactions and within days the bank credited him with the money.
It was a stopgap loan until the bank could investigate what happened.
It was mid-December. Over time, Gallant thought the investigation had proven he had been scammed and the matter was closed, he says.
Then, a few weeks ago, Gallant noticed that the transactions were back on and without any warning, the $630 was taken from his account again.
Gallant contacted Tangerine seeking answers and a more favorable resolution.
But after spending hours on hold and receiving few responses, Gallant reached out to CBC News to share her story.
Within two days, Tangerine again returned the money to Gallant’s account without any explanation.
“It was a frustrating experience, I hope it’s over now,” he says.
CBC News contacted Tangerine, an online subsidiary of Scotiabank.
Tangerine declined an interview, but in a statement it says it cannot comment on client-specific questions for confidentiality reasons.
Adding “we are dealing with our client separately and we believe that we can come to a resolution that will satisfy him.”
Gallant says he has no idea how those utility charges showed up on his account.
He says he hasn’t been out of the country in years, doesn’t own property in Trinidad and Tobago and when he looked at his purchases to see if anything looked odd, nothing jumped out. .
So he says he was shocked when during one of his recent attempts to find answers, someone at Tangerine told him that Visa had verified those six transactions during the investigation.
He was told that was why Tangerine withdrew the money from his account.
However, Gallant says they did not tell him how the transactions were verified.
“Someone is using my checking account to pay their gas or electric bills in Trinidad and Tobago, and Visa somehow seems to think it’s a legitimate transaction.”
Financial fraud expert Vanessa Iafolla says Gallant did the right thing by reporting and disputing the suspicious activity in a timely manner to the bank.
And she tells him, even at first glance, these accusations seem suspicious.
People don’t usually pay their electricity bills in installments over a few days, she says.
“What that tells me is that the person is testing the card while working to pay that bill in Trinidad and Tobago,” says Iafolla, an assistant professor of criminology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.
She says the fraudster will first try to see if the customer notices a transaction, if it will go through and how far they can go.
Iafolla says it also appears Tangerine’s customer service failed Gallant because it neglected to explain the outcome of its investigation and exactly how those transactions were verified before taking the money.
She says it’s unfortunate that it took going public to solve the case.
“Institutions should take responsibility for their customers and support them through the processes of getting their money back,” Iafolla says.
Gallant says at the end of the day he’s just happy to see the $630 back in his account.
The company also gave him a $250 credit and apologized for the whole affair.
In an email to Gallant, shared with CBC News, a company spokesperson wrote, “the interim credits recovery was done in error.”
“I’m just more relieved now than anything,” Gallant said.
However, he says a detailed explanation of what the investigation found would be helpful.
“I’d like to know if they realized that was incorrect, or maybe they just didn’t like the warmth that just got contacted by me multiple times or (CBC news).”