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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane business owner struggling after banking scam

Handmade ski maker TJ Sneva, the nephew of racing great Tom Sneva, is trying to recover $28,000 taken from his Chase Bank business account.  (COLIN MULVANY/The Spokesman-Review )

TJ Sneva earns a living making high-end skis and snowboards for adrenaline junkies out of his Spokane home.

But his business is now struggling after he fell victim to a spoofing scam. Sneva, the nephew of car racing great Tom Sneva, lost about $28,000 when he gave information to a scammer who was using a phone number that showed the caller identification from his own bank, JPMorgan Chase.

After realizing he’d been scammed from the texts and telephone conversations on Dec. 19, Sneva, 46, has worked for weeks with a local Chase branch manager and bank officials only to finish the process without any of his money.

Instead he’s received plenty of blame.

Sneva said he sat down with the local bank manager on Monday who had just finished a telephone conversation with other banking officials.

“He got off the line and said, ‘You are not getting this back,’ ” Sneva said.

The local branch manager told Sneva that in the bank’s eyes, Sneva pulled off the scam with his buddies and is trying to put in a claim to get the money back, Sneva said.

“I said, ‘You know that’s not true. As far as I see it, the bank took my money,’ ” Sneva said. “I’m like, ‘Why would I send my money out to try to recover it?’ ”

Attempts made Wednesday to reach the local branch manager and other local officials were unsuccessful.

One employee at the Chase branch on West Main Avenue said nobody there could discuss Sneva’s situation “due to privacy laws.”

A request for comment sent to JPMorgan Chase headquarters in New York was answered by email from Darcy Donahoe-Wilmot in the company’s Seattle office. She asked for more time to research the Sneva matter before issuing this statement: “Consumers should protect their personal account information, passwords and one-time passcodes,” Donahoe-Wilmot wrote. “We will never call you and ask you to send money to yourself or anyone else to prevent fraud. If you want to be sure you’re talking to your bank, call the number on the back of your credit or debit card.”

In the meantime, Sneva is struggling to pay for supplies to keep his business going.

“The bank not standing up for me here is kind of crazy,” he said. “They pretty much accused me of doing it.”

The grift

Sneva’s nightmare began with a text message on Dec. 19 alerting him that someone was attempting to withdraw funds from his Chase account. It asked Sneva to respond whether it was him.

He responded no.

“I immediately got another text from the same number saying someone from Chase will call you,” Sneva said.

The caller identification for the call came in as “Chase Manhattan Bank,” he said.

“The guy was pretty good,” Sneva said. “He got me on the phone and asked for my user ID, which I gave him. He asked me for my password. I said, ‘I’m not going to give you that. If you are my bank, you would know that.’ ”

The caller then explained that Sneva would have to submit a form and the money would remain in his account.

“He had me open my Chase mobile app and guided me through there. A form popped up. He said, ‘Sign that and you are done,’ ” Sneva said.

The caller then said two more transfers had just occurred and he needed Sneva to give him two more electronic signatures.

“That’s when I’m like, ‘I’m not getting the right feeling here,’ ” Sneva said. “He asked me for the codes and I wouldn’t give them to him. I pretty much hung up.”

But the damage was done. Three transfers were made.

Two of them, one for $9,250.33 and another for $9,550, were wired to what appears to be a personal bank account at a TD Bank in Miami. The third transfer went to a named account at a TD Bank in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for $9,000, according to Sneva’s bank records.

The next day on Dec. 20, Sneva said he called his local branch to try to figure out what happened.

“When I called to check on the claim on Tuesday, they gave me the business fraud line number. It was the same number that called me on Monday,” Sneva said. “And when they put me on hold Tuesday, it was the same hold music that it was on Monday.

“I’m not saying it was coming from them, but it sure seems weird.”

Sneva credited the local branch manager for helping sort the situation out. But in the end, the funds were never returned.

“I didn’t get much of a sense that they even looked into it,” Sneva said. “They said they were trying to recover the funds. After I gave them a few days, they said, ‘You gave people access to your account.’ I said, ‘No I did not.’ ”

Greg Deckard, chairman and CEO of State Bank Northwest, is not connected to Sneva’s situation but said his description of the alleged scam raised several questions.

“When something like this arises, you need an advocate to help you solve your problem,” said Deckard, who also serves as treasurer for the Independent Community Bankers of America. “Unfortunately, that’s not always possible with a large institution.”

Sneva is not the only victim.

“Fraud is extremely rampant right now. It’s the No. 1 issue we all face,” Deckard said. “The lesson here is … change your password frequently. Never give out your information and be skeptical of everything.”

For instance, Deckard said he’s been receiving texts seeking to provide his account information from banks for which he has no accounts.

“Generally we see this type of thing in the compromising of a debit or credit card,” Deckard said. “It’s really unusual at the online banking level. I feel bad for him. He’s got to escalate that.”

Sneva said he’s trying to, but he didn’t know where to turn.

After his efforts to recover his money ended with the bank instead accusing him of fraudulently draining his own account, he said he decided to tell his story.

“We are going to have to make it public,” he said.