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This Deer Lake, N.L., woman’s savings vanished, leaving her with only unanswered questions

A woman sits at her kitchen table holding a smartphone.
Bernetta Serrick believes her savings account was drained by scammers. (James Grudić/CBC)

A woman in western Newfoundland believes online thieves have taken most of her savings, after the money started to disappear from her account earlier this year.

Bernetta Serrick checked her account balance on a mobile banking app on a Friday in mid-August.

She says she was baffled to see her money had been going missing in large sums.

“I seen all these transactions, $5,000 here, $4,000-something here, going different places,” she said. 

She waited until her local Bank of Montreal branch opened the following Monday, and went in person to tell the staff what happened. Serrick says the teller witnessed another large sum of money being transferred away in real time as Serrick stood at the counter, helpless as she lost another $5,000.

“I said ‘stop it, flag it, do whatever you need to do, just stop it,'” said Serrick.

All told, she says she lost about $20,000 over four global money transfers, all in the span of just four days.

She lives alone in Deer Lake, in a house that needs upgrades. She has a modest income from her Canada Pension Plan and a widow’s allowance. She says she also lives with short-term memory loss after suffering a stroke in 2002.

Serrick had most of the missing money earmarked for some home repairs, including waterproofing her basement after some recent flooding. Now, with no sign of her money ever coming back, she has no means to pay for the work her house needs. 

“If the house falls down, the house falls down,” she said. 

Serrick says has no idea where the money went or who sent it, but says it was transferred to Euros and sent to two accounts with full names attached.

She says she filed a complaint with the Bank of Montreal, and said they have opened an investigation, but she doesn’t have confidence she’ll get her money back — despite Serrick believing she should be reimbursed.

A spokesperson with BMO said the bank has reviewed the matter and has asked Serrick to pass on any new information. But they also stress customers should safeguard their credentials and monitor their bank accounts closely.

A portrait of a businesswoman.
Sarah Bradley is CEO of Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments. (Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments)

Sarah Bradley is the CEO of Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments, a company that works to resolve disputes between banks and their customers as an alternative to litigation.

Bradley said in order for the bank to be responsible for reimbursing Serrick, she needs to prove the bank did something wrong.

“It’s often the case that consumers don’t realize they have provided access to their accounts to a scammer,” said Bradley.

Serrick recalls being prompted to change her password to access her mobile banking some weeks before the money disappeared, and wonders whether that could have been the moment her account was breached.

If it does turn out Serrick did something to compromise security, even accidentally, the bank won’t have to pay back her $20,000. 

“The consumer is the victim of a crime, but it’s often not the bank’s responsibility to pay the money that’s been stolen from them,” said Bradley. 

Serrick notified the RCMP shortly after it happened, and Cpl. Jolene Garland said police are investigating the missing money.

Garland said fraudulent transactions are often complicated to investigate and may involve the work of multiple units across several jurisdictions. Often, thieves will transfer money through multiple accounts under multiple names, making them difficult to trace. 

Meanwhile, Serrick has nearly run out of hope she’ll get her money back.

“It’s not very nice living with this, knowing your money is gone and that’s it,” she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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