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Close Those Joint Accounts

I thought that I was being a good parent by opening a bank account for my son while he was in high school during the summer of 2009. I wanted to ensure that Caleb was prepared for college, that he established a positive credit history and became a financial wizard in terms of his personal finances. I was already a USAA member and satisfied customer so, the decision to open Caleb’s first bank account with USAA was easy. The customer service representative explained that his account would be linked to my account. I was okay with this as I would be the one depositing funds into the account. Caleb was also issued a debit card, which made refueling my gas tank after a week of school and basketball practice, more convenient. I never thought that simple convenience would come back to haunt me.

After his graduation in 2011, I transitioned account management responsibilities to Caleb. He managed as well as expected during college, surprising me by only acquiring one or two nonsufficient fund notifications each month. Fast forward to 2019, I had forgotten about Caleb’s starter bank account, that is until USAA auto debited my checking account for $1724.00.

Apparently, USAA approved a one-time wire deposit of $6,000.00 into the account which was immediately withdrawn a few hours later. This was followed by several smaller deposits and withdrawals between $200.00-$300.00. Finally, after about six deposits followed by immediate withdrawals, USAA’s fraud department takes notice and freezes the account. I received a demand letter in the mail shortly thereafter.

I immediately called Caleb and conferenced in USAA. After about an hour of explaining that Caleb never requested a wire or deposited any checks (the account’s balance has never exceeded $400.00) into the account, USAA agreed that it was fraud and that they would continue their investigation and inform us of the outcome. This never happened. Instead, USAA withdrew the funds from my checking account in an action referred to as an auto debit, without further explanation.

I made several calls, was given several different answers and at one point, was even promised that the funds would be returned to my account. This never happened. I then emailed the executive office in hopes of some sort of resolution. I was once again assured that this matter would be investigated and that I would be contacted by the investigator in three days. This didn’t happen either. After five days, I reached out to the investigator, leaving a voice message. Julie returned my call the following day. She concluded that Caleb had somehow authenticated the approval via his smart phone; despite the fact that Caleb never received an email message confirming the wire request (which is a USAA policy), the account had been inactive and the transaction was made in Manhattan, NY while Caleb was physically in Queens, making it impossible for him to be in two boroughs at one time. As the phone representative had initially determined, this was fraud however, I was accountable, simply because I had not taken the necessary action to remove myself from Caleb’s account. I had not closed that joint account.

After much thought, I did take the necessary action to eliminate future vulnerabilities, poor customer service, and the lack of customer appreciation. I have been a USAA customer for 29 years. My husband and I have purchased two homes and financed seven automobiles through USAA. We deserved better.

Today, we are still USAA customers, we have left our auto and homeowner’s insurance in their care. As for our finances, Chase is offering $300.00 for new checking accounts with direct deposit and an additional $300.00 for savings accounts that maintain an undisclosed balance. We have taken advantage of both.

I have shared my story with others and learned that a few of my colleagues have experienced a similar issue with their high school/college student’s account. Appears that USAA is now aware of the joint account ownership vulnerabilities and has since implemented new changes to their two-factor authentication to address the issue. While my relationship with USAA is essentially over, it’s not too late for you to protect yourself. My advice is austere…close those joint accounts.

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