Credit card charges after ex-girlfriend steals Visa leave B.C. man on hook for thousands
New rules put more responsibility on credit card holders to protect themselves
Time may heal all wounds when it comes to a bad breakup — but four years after Mark Scheffers' relationship ended, his credit rating is still scarred by his ex-girlfriend’s actions.
"We had some good times," he says. "But everything that happened after … just puts a big stain on it. You know what I mean?"
Jessica Van Tent and Scheffers had what he describes as a "rocky" relationship, and in 2010 they broke it off for good.
A few months later that same year, Van Tent showed up at a party Scheffers was hosting at his home and at some point that night, she stole his credit card.
Weeks later, she started taking out thousands of dollars in cash advances on his account.
It took Scheffers months to realize there was a problem with his card.
He says he rarely used it and thought it was somewhere in the house. He also says he didn’t get any credit card statements.
When he finally did get a statement, he realized something was very wrong — and suspected his ex-girlfriend might be involved.
"I asked her and she denied it, and I put a little pressure on her and said, 'Look, if you don’t tell me it was you, then each one of those bank machines has a camera and it will come out in the wash anyway,'" said Scheffers.
Van Tent eventually confessed her crime to RCMP in Port Alberni, B.C., on Nov. 22, 2010.
Go Public obtained a copy of the transcript in which she admits stealing the credit card and using it without Scheffers’ permission.
In the confession, Const. Steve Dupuis is interviewing Van Tent.
Const. Dupuis: "I see you have some things you want to get off your chest and that’s wonderful so uh you can just fill me in I guess."
Van Tent: "Um. I don’t know. I guess Mark left the credit card on the table and uh I ended up taking it (indec). I didn’t use it for a long time and I guess we had a fight and I was pretty much out on the street so I needed clothes, I needed food. So I know it was wrong and knowing I had took it without him knowing and he didn’t tell me his PIN number or anything."
PIN sharing voids policy, says Scheffers
Van Tent's confession came as a huge relief to Scheffers, but that feeling didn’t last long.
"I was happy, feeling that I was off the hook, that that was done — until I was informed that I'm still on the hook for the money."
Still on the hook, according his credit card company, CIBC. The company told Scheffers that despite the confession and the charges against his ex, he would have to pay.
Why? Scheffers didn’t give Van Tent his credit card PIN. But he did give her the code for his debit card while they were still dating.
Months later, after stealing the Visa card, she eventually decided to try that same PIN. It worked.
"They said because she knew my PIN number, that voids their policy," Scheffers told the CBC.
What are CIBC's rules regarding PINs?
"Your PIN is equivalent to your signature. Therefore, whether you are a Primary Cardholder or an Authorized User, you must keep your PIN absolutely confidential; it is for your use alone. You will not tell anyone else (including a close family member or friend, or any bank, public official or merchant) what your current PIN is. When choosing a PIN, you will not use all or any part of:
• Your name, or a close relative’s name;
• Your birth date,year of birth, telephone number or address, or those of a close relative;
• A number on your Card, or any other account number;
• A number on any identification card you keep with or near your Card (such as your social insurance number or driver’s licence number); or
• Any other number which can be easily obtained or guessed by someone else.
You understand that you should memorize your PIN rather than keep any written record of it. Therefore, when you receive the PIN we send you for your Card you will destroy the document on which the PIN is printed. However, if you decide that you truly need to keep a written record, you agree that:
• You will store the PIN in a safe place;
• You will not record any PIN on, or near,your Card;
• Your PIN must be disguised within the written record you make,so that no one else can easily guess that it is a record of your PIN; and
• You will not record your PIN on, or near, a telephone.
In the event that you know or suspect that someone else knows your PIN,you must change your PIN immediately, and contact us by telephone."
Source: CIBC Visa Cardholder Agreement
Visa bill now estimated at $6,000
Scheffers says he continued calling different departments hoping to get the issue sorted out, but was bounced from one department to another and back again to no avail.
He even offered to send CIBC a copy of his ex-girlfriend's confession and the charges against her, but Scheffers says the company wasn’t interested.
He estimates his Visa bill is now up to about $6,000 between the charges and interest.
"As far as I know, theft is theft," Scheffers said. "And the amount that she had spent is not an amount I could recover easily either. Especially when she admitted to it. I don’t see why they wouldn't go to her for it."
Under CIBC's cardholder agreement, PINs must not only be kept confidential but consumers must also agree not to "use all or any part of … any other number which can be easily obtained or guessed by someone else."
Go Public contacted CIBC about Scheffers' problem. The bank tells us customer service tried several times to contact him back in 2011 and 2012 to resolve the issue, but never heard from him.
Scheffers says he didn’t receive any calls or letters.
After Go Public contacted the bank, CIBC offered to again try and resolve the issue with Scheffers, but wouldn’t elaborate on what that resolution might look like. CIBC also says it will once again investigate what happened.
Cardholder agreements tighten rules
CIBC isn't alone when it comes to tightening the rules around PINs.
Scott Hannah from the Credit Counselling Society points to recent changes to cardholder agreements.
In the past year, more banks and credit card companies are putting more of the responsibility on the consumer when it comes to protecting themselves.
Hannah’s advice? Avoid common or easy to guess PINs. He says the most common PIN these days is 1-2-3-4.
"You have to have a PIN number that not associated with you as a person, where you live, an easy number. Pick something else."
As for Van Tent, she was required to do 20 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to Scheffer.
All that was back in 2011, so this is now all long behind her. Scheffers wishes he could say the same.
He’s still getting calls from a collection agency, sometimes several times a day. So are his parents.
Scheffers' credit rating is shot, but he is still refusing to pay.
"It's like a dark cloud that follows you around. Nobody wants this, nobody plans this. And I don’t feel like I deserve it — but it's there."
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With files by Rosa Marchitelli