Former Army Reservist Says Bank of America Left Him With $25,000 in Debit Charges

PHOTO: John McDevitt, 52, a U.S. Army Reservist from Clayville, N.Y., says Bank of America is not helping him re-coup $25,243.71 in fraudulent charges accrued on his debit card while on leave from service.Russell Dietz
John McDevitt, 52, a U.S. Army Reservist from Clayville, N.Y., says Bank of America is not helping him re-coup $25,243.71 in fraudulent charges accrued on his debit card while on leave from service.

John McDevitt, a U.S. Army reservist from Clayville, N.Y., said Bank of America and Visa have not helped him re-coup $25,243.71 in fraudulent charges accrued on his debit card almost two years ago while he was on leave from service.

McDevitt, 52, of Clayville, N.Y., served in Afghanistan for a year and spent his two free weeks in Greece in November 2010 according to a policy afforded to soldiers deployed in a combat zone.

"My kids are grown," he said of his children ages 29 and 27. "I'm in my 50s. I always wanted to go to Athens, Greece because I'm a big history buff."

While in Athens and by himself, McDevitt said he asked a taxi driver to take him to a nightclub without a specific destination.

"I told the taxi driver I want to go to a night club – not a strip club," he said.

He said the driver brought him to a club at around 10 p.m. but he "didn't like the environment." He said he ordered two beers.

He said he was at a club called Palia Plaka for about an hour and a half.

McDevitt said he only talked to the waiter while he sat at a small table, though "a couple girls tried to come over."

"I already know what that's about," he told ABC News. "I said, 'Nope.'"

When he tried to pay with his Bank of America debit card and leave the club, he said workers claimed he owed them more money. Instead of arguing with them, he said he paid the inflated sum of 600 euros, signed a receipt for his drinks and left.

"I'm in Athens, Greece. I don't want to go to jail," he said. "You sign, you leave. You just want to get out of there."

Two weeks later at his base in Afghanistan, he said he checked his account online and saw six charges totaling $25,243.71. The charges were between $2,058.66 and $6,780.66 for Nov. 12, Nov. 19 and Nov. 22, 2010.

Outraged over the charges he said Bank of America should refund him, McDevitt protested outside a branch in Utica, N.Y. last week, holding a sign that read, "A soldier that puts America first should have a bank that puts the soldier first,"as reported by WKTV.

On Nov. 29, 2010, McDevitt notified Bank of America, which issued a temporary credit to his account for the full amount on Dec. 3, 2010, while the fraud claim was being reported. But the bank took back the funds after determining that "no error had occurred in this instance" as stated in a letter sent Dec. 9. 2010 from the bank.

McDevitt said his only option was to use a debit card because he has been unable to obtain a credit card after his ex-wife filed for bankruptcy.

"I paid off all my credit, but I still can't get a credit card," he said. Now an auditor with New York State, he also wanted to use his money to help pay for his daughter's wedding in June.

"Right now, my parents are helping me out because they know my situation," he said. "I tried to get a loan but because of my past credit, that's denied."

In a letter provided to ABC News by McDevitt, the bank said that on Dec. 9, 2010, it "received the signed sales drafts from the merchant reflecting your signature and card imprint."

Attempts by ABC News to reach the club for comment were unsuccessful.

"We found that the transaction activity in question was authorized and posted, or billed, correctly to your account," the letter stated.

The bank also stated that it attempted a "chargeback" against the merchant but on Feb. 23, 2011, "the merchant represented the transactions stating that they were valid, based on the sales drafts already provided."

The bank also wrote in that letter, "due to your initial interaction with the merchant, this case is considered a non-fraud claim. Furthermore, you were unable to provide copies of the receipts for the initial transactions that you said you authorized."

McDevitt said the signatures on the receipts are not his and there is no record of the receipt he actually signed.

T.J. Crawford, spokesman for Bank of America, said the bank cannot discuss McDevitt's account, citing customer privacy concerns.

"With any fraud claim, there is a very thorough review process we go through to verify its authenticity," he said.

When asked whether a customer's proof that a signature does not match his is evidence of a lack of authenticity, Crawford said "every instance is unique."

"These are handled on a case-by-case basis," Crawford said.

In a letter dated May 13, 2011 from the bank provided by McDevitt, the bank said "Our attempts to resolve this matter with the merchant have been unsuccessful. We have exhausted all our available options. We can only suggest that you explore other avenues of recourse to obtain a refund and/or come to a more equitable solution with the merchant."

The bank, which followed the rules of fraud protection and also took measures in "good faith," stated that Visa "advised us that they have declined our arbitration case and have decided in favor of the merchant" on May 13, 2011.

A spokesman for Visa said the company is looking into the matter before it can comment.

Consumers should be aware of differences in fraud protection for credit cards and debit cards, Beverly Harzog, credit card expert with, said. With credit cards, the maximum liability for fraudulent charges is $50. If you report the loss or theft of your card before it's used, you're not liable for anything. In most cases, the $50 is also waived

"The rules for debit cards are different," she said. Harzog said if your debit card is lost or stolen, you have to report this within two business days to limit your liability to $50. If you don't report it within two days, you can be liable for $500. But if you don't report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days of receiving the statement showing the fraudulent transfer of money, your losses can be unlimited.

"If there are unauthorized charges on your debit card statement and you haven't lost the card or it hasn't been stolen, you have to report the fraudulent charges within 60 days of the date on the statement to limit your liability," Harzog said. "You're only liable for charges after that 60-day window if you fail to report it."

McDevitt filed a claim with Bank of America within two weeks of his visit to Greece, but the bank found the charges were not fraudulent.

Harzog said she suggested that McDevitt contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"Whether or not the bureau can help him isn't clear, but I think it's a step he should take," she said. "It's been a year and a half since this started and he's going to need someone to help him get through the bureaucracy to find out if he can get his money back."

McDevitt said he has spoken to a lawyer and tried to get in contact with the merchant without success. He said he also got in touch with the New York State Attorney General's office.

"Every time I get deeper and deeper, I'm told 'no,'" he said, though he has not yet tried to get in touch with Visa.

"I was robbed of money," he said. "I just think the law should be changed, whether it's debit or credit."