Skip to main content

Ottawa woman warned BMO of suspected bank fraud, still lost $15K


Carole Lemay first opened an account with the Bank of Montreal when she was in her early twenties.

Now 75 years old, Lemay says she is shocked and frustrated by the bank's security measures after cybercriminals accessed her account and stole $15,000.

It all started on Sept. 7, 2022, at roughly 3:45 p.m.

She received a call from someone claiming to be calling on behalf of Amazon Prime, telling her she needed to update her payment method. Lemay says she has never had Amazon Prime and suspected the man on the phone to be a scammer so she hung up the phone, turned off her computer, and drove straight to the bank.

Roughly 15 minutes after receiving the call, Lemay and her husband were at the BMO branch in Barrhaven. Lemay says they were speaking to a bank teller at around 4:05 p.m.

"They said, 'No, your money is all there but we will give you new cards'. They gave us a new debit card, a new MasterCard and we changed the password and the PIN," said Lemay.

"We met with the assistant manager and she said, 'Don't worry, your money is all there. You're safe.' So we came back home and I get into my computer and there's no more money."

Someone had gained access to her accounts, stealing $11,000 from her savings. Another $4,000 had been transferred from her credit card to her savings account before it too was swiped.

Lemay says, upon finding out she had been robbed, she immediately returned to the bank.

"I said, 'How could that have happened? We were here half an hour ago.' They said 'Well, it's a global transfer and we can't stop it.' I said, 'What do you mean you can't stop it'?"

The money was sent overseas through BMO's Global Money Transfer feature. An online feature that allows customers to send funds abroad within minutes.

Global Money Transfer was introduced by the bank in December 2021.

Since then, it appears to have become a go-to for cyber criminals looking to lock in a quick payday. CTV News has heard from dozens of bank fraud victims in recent weeks, the majority of whom had money stripped from their accounts via Global Money Transfer.

For Lemay, a Global Money Transfer for thousands of dollars does not line up with her decades long banking history with the bank.

She says she was shocked the bank did not flag the transaction or give any time to halt the money from being sent to scammers.

"They didn't even question it. I mean, I've been with the bank for 52 years and I have never had transactions like this. Never," said Lemay.

"Wouldn't that ring a bell that there's $15,000 being taken out? Don't they have safeguards?"

Lemay and her husband reported the incident with the bank and an investigation was launched.

By the end of November, BMO had come to a final decision.

Lemay was not to receive any compensation because the bank found she did not adequately protect her account information. Exactly how the scammers gained access to her account has not been conclusively explained but the bank says there is no way the fraudulent transaction could have gone through without Lemay's bank card number, password, and the one-time passcodes.

Because of that, BMO essentially told Lemay that she must not have safeguarded her account, which, under the terms of her banking agreement, lays the blame at her feet.

A BMO branch in Ottawa. (Dave Charbonneau/CTV News Ottawa)Lemay remains adamant that she never once shared her password, PIN or any one-time passcodes with anyone. Not even her husband.

"John never even knew my password. I would never give it to anyone," she said.

"I actually had to look it up because they were weird letters and symbols that meant nothing."

Unsatisfied with the result of BMO's investigation, Lemay went to the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) to have the third-party dispute resolution service review her complaint as well as the way in which the bank investigated the issue.

Despite falling short of explaining exactly how Lemay's account was fraudulently accessed, the OBSI came to the exact same conclusion as the bank. She was not to receive any restitution because she must not have protected her information.

Lemay has since left BMO for another bank.

It's a conclusion that has become common for BMO customers who have fallen victim to bank fraud.

According to the OBSI's 2023 annual report, there were 2,719 consumer complaints of various types received against the banks that are covered by the OBSI.

Of those, 1,403 were from BMO customers.

According to the OBSI's 2022 annual report, BMO received just 331 complaints a year prior.

Vanessa Iafolla, PhD, has a doctorate in criminology. She runs Anti-Fraud Intelligence Consulting, which offers financial crime consulting and support for victims and lawyers. She says the increase in complaints is something that stands out.

"It suggests to me that there's something critical happening within BMO. Perhaps there's a technology that's not working how BMO would have intended, perhaps customer education is not happening as extensively as it should

"There's smoke. There's a fire somewhere. The question is what's the cause of the fire?"

Iafolla says she has been busy with consumer issues from people who have been victimized by bank fraud.

"Right now I am hearing about people with BMO who are being victimized through this global money remittance issue or this fraud that's happening through their accounts where they're losing money via this service that BMO is offering,"

"These things sometimes come in waves or trends and so, at least with BMO right now, that's what I'm seeing coming into my inbox."

She says every banking system should have some sort of protection to prevent these types of fraudulent transactions from going through within minutes.

"You need some sort of stop in the system so that if someone accidentally sends money to the wrong person or if someone is abusing someone else's account, there is a pause or a break so that people can say 'wait a minute, hold on, what's happening'?"

"One of the things that I'm hearing regularly from BMO clients is that they are not being alerted when this global money remittance is happening from their accounts. That is concerning, especially if it's for the first time that this has happened or if the money being sent is of a very significant amount," said Iafolla.

"If it's something that you haven't done before or if it's wildly out of character for the kind of account activity that a person does, a lot of clients ask, 'Why didn't BMO ask me if this was a legitimate transaction? I get these alerts from my Visa card; I get these alerts from my MasterCard, why not this?' So, there's something up here."

CTV News has requested an interview with a BMO representative on several occasions, but the bank has not put anyone up for questions.

We have also requested data from BMO that shows the number of reported fraudulent activity through the bank's Global Money Transfer feature but BMO did not provide that information.

In an email, a BMO representative tells CTV News "It's extremely important to keep your information safe from fraudsters, and there are some simple practices that can help."

  • Ensure your password is unique to your banking account and do not share your password with anyone.
  • Do not click on suspicious links because they may be malicious and enable illegal access to your phone or computer.
  • If you are contacted by a representative from the bank via text, email or phone requesting personal account information, hang up and call back using the number listed on the back of your card. Top Stories

Stay Connected