I have been a loyal VanCity Credit Union "member" for the past 2 and a half years. I have always paid my bills on time and have never had a late loan payment in my life. Because of this excellent account record, I am now paying the price.
On VanCity's website they have listed their statement of "Values and Commitments". They claim to be accountable to their members, employees, colleagues and communities for the results of their decisions and actions. They claim to prudently exercise fiduciary responsibility with members' deposits. They claim to treat you with dignity and respect and the list goes on...Every day I see commercials on TV about how banks don't care the way Credit Unions do and "People before profits" is very important to a Credit Union.
It started with me selling a horse for the first time online. I was contacted by an agent who had a buyer for my horse. I was sent a certified cheque from the Bank of America for $20, 500 US, $14, 000 US for the horse and $6, 500 US for shipping which I was told I needed to send to the shipping agent through Western Union Money Gram. I deposited the cheque into my VanCity Credit Union account on 09/11/04, and told them the story of where it came from and what I was supposed to do with it. I told the teller it was my first time selling a horse. I explained that $6, 500 US was to go to the shipping agent and half the $14, 000 US was to go to my in-laws as they were half owners of the horse. She went, taking the Bank of America cheque with her to show someone in the back and asked what I should do. She came back and recommended I open a US account into which I could deposit the $6, 500 until I was told where to send it and I could deposit the rest into my chequing account and write a personal cheque to my in-laws as they would know that I obviously had this money in my account, saving myself the fee of giving them a bank draft. I told her that since all this money was not meant for me I was concerned that I could have the government come after me for taxes for the whole amount. I explained again that I wanted to be sure I was only responsible for the $8, 234.10 CAD which was my share.
Again she went and asked someone and then return saying I didn't need to worry as the government rarely looks at personal bank accounts. They accepted it without any question. I was not told that because I live in Canada this cheque could take up to 30 days to clear, they put it directly into my account and let me have complete access to it immediately.
As far as I knew a certified cheque was as good as cash and VanCity confirmed this by depositing it directly into my account. If they had told me that it would not clear for 30 days I would have gratefully had them put a hold on it and thanked them so much for letting me know. I had no back up funds that could cover this check, my account was at -$4, 190.56 in my overdraft, I have a $20, 000 loan, my credit card was maxed out. There was no reason for VanCity to think we could possibly survive if this cheque did not clear.
The next day, 10/11/04, I went back to the bank after being in contact with the agent. The VanCity Senior Finanicial Services Representative, after hearing my story, showed me a picture of her Arabian horse and then raised my debit card limit from $2, 500 CAD to $10, 000 CAD so I could send $6500 US back to the shipping agent through Money Gram. They did not inform me that these funds were not cleared yet. I was concerned because for me to send the Money Gram I would have to convert the money into CAD and there would be money lost in the conversion. I asked her to reverse it and I would ask if they would rather take it in a bank draft which would make sure no money was lost. The buyer's agent said no, they really needed it to be sent through Money Gram. So I returned to VanCity on 12/11/04, spoke to the teller explaining I that I needed to send it through Money Gram. I showed her the card of the Senior Financial Services Representative who said she had not lowered my limit so I could go ahead and send the money through Money Gram. The teller converted the $6, 500 US into my chequing account and then told me she had not given me the proper interest rate so she reversed it and did it again at the better interest rate. I asked her if the $14, 000 had been converted at the proper interest rate and she said no and corrected that for me. So off I went and sent $7, 644.65 CAD to the shipping agent.
A few days later I received an urgent e-mail telling me that the buyer had had a serious stroke, the deal was off and his wife wanted the money back, to please send it down to Texas so she could use it to help with medical expenses, and to please be compassionate as this was a matter of life and death. I was instructed to keep $2000 as severence for my troubles. On 17/11/04, I told my in-laws, who then got me a certified cheque for the money I had given them. I went back to VanCity, told them what had happened and that I had money also on my Visa I needed to take out since I had paid my Visa card off with this money. They deposited my in-law's cheque, gave me a $2, 000 cash advance on my Visa, raised my debit card limit to $15, 000 again so I could send $14, 560.50 CAD back through Money Gram without informing me that these funds were still not cleared.
I sent the money back because I am an honest person and did not want any problems. VanCity never once warned me these funds had not yet been cleared. I kept thinking everything was fine because the money was in my account, what could be wrong?
On, 19/11/04, I received urgent emails and phone calls from these people saying that I needed to call Money Gram and release this money to them. I called Money Gram and they told me the money had been released the day before and they suspected I was a victim of fraud. I was horrified that this could happen to me. I contacted the police and VanCity immediately. I spoke with VanCity's Member Services Manager and asked her if she knew it could take up to 30 days to clear this cheque, she said yes. I asked if this scam was known to her, she said yes. I asked why a hold had not been put on this cheque. She said usually their policy is to put a hold on it, but because we are such good clients and have such a good account that they let it go right away. So if I had been a bad client with a terrible account record I would have been protected? That just does not make any sense to me at all.
The Member Services Manager told us she would contact us the following week to confirm whether this cheque was fraudulent or not. This was on Friday 19/11/04 and she did not contact me until the following Tuesday to inform me that it was indeed fraudulent when in fact my account was showing the cheque had actually been returned on Thursday 18/11/04, the day before we had found out the cheque was bad. That means the bank should have known about the bad cheque and should have notified us in time for us to protect ourselves. Money Gram informed me the funds had been picked up at 5pm on 18/11/04, so had we been notified in time we would have been able to stop the funds from behind picked up.
We did not receive a formal response from VanCity's head office letting us know about the returned cheque until we received a letter on Friday December 17, 2004. The letter was dated November 25, 2004, but the Canada Post stamp on the envelope is for 2004.12.16. That is a 17 day discrepancy between writing the letter and sending it.
They have back charged my account and added 21% interest on top of it. We had a lawyer write a letter on November 26, 2004 and VanCity did not respond until January 11, 2005. Meanwhile my account was and still is accruing interest while they took their time to answer. On top of losing the $20, 500 US, we are being forced to pay hundreds of dollars of interest as well. The interest accrued in this 2 months of waiting is over $800 CAD and that's just for the interest!
We have always paid our bills on time and had an excellent credit rating. Now VanCity has ruined all that and it is very likely that they will be forcing us into bankruptcy as we cannot possibly pay this money back. Especially at that interest rate. Interest alone for the last month was $454! So much for Credit Unions looking out for the best interests of their members and "People before Profits" does not seem to apply in this case.
I feel if VanCity is allowed to get away with treating their members this way what incentive is there for them to alert their members that it can in fact take 30 or more days for a cheque like this to clear when they are clearly making a profit from it at 21% interest.
For VanCity to allow a transaction like this take is extremely negligent and irresponsible. The money VanCity allowed to be sent out is now supporting organized crime and possibly even terrorism, allowing these criminals to continue operating and defrauding others.
I decided that I want to put this behind me and get on with my life and not have to claim bankruptcy. My mother was offering to give me $10, 000 to make a settlement proposal to VanCity.
I made an appointment with the branch manager to discuss this possibility, but she was not interested in hearing it at all. Her offer was to waive the interest from November until now, consolidate the money we were defrauded out of with our existing loan and extend the payments over a 10 year period. That means we would be paying interest on this money for the next 10 years and VanCity would be making a huge profit on this money. Again I ask why would VanCity ever tell anyone that a cheque like this might not clear for up to 30 if they are going to make a profit on it?
Langley, British Columbia