Elderly man fought Chase bank for years to recover stolen funds before his death

In the spring of 2020, James Vesey worked at a U.S. Postal Service building in midtown Manhattan, sorting mail and unloading trucks. With stringent security protocols in place at the federal facility, Vesey had to submit a written request to a manager, which often took days to process, in order to leave the building during working hours, except for a 30 to 45 minute lunch break. 

Nearing retirement from the Postal Service after a roughly 30 year career, Vesey suffered from arthritis in his hands and knees, and recovery from a hip replacement operation made it difficult for him to continue working. He used a three-legged cane, or sometimes a walker, to get around and moved slowly. For Vesey, traveling much beyond the vicinity of the midtown Manhattan building where he worked was physically impossible during the limited amount of time he was allowed to leave. 

And yet, on three different weekdays during that period, several thousand dollars were withdrawn from Vesey’s bank account at a Chase branch in Brooklyn, about seven miles and at least a half an hour drive, or 40 minute subway ride, away. For more than two years, Vesey fought with the bank over the roughly $19,000 in funds he said had been stolen from him. After MarketWatch reached out to Chase, which is part of the JPMorgan Chase & Co.
about Vesey’s case late last month, the nation’s biggest bank said last Friday it had decided to reimburse him, “after further review.”  Over the weekend the bank put the funds back in Vesey’s account.

But on Sunday, two days after learning he would get his money back, Vesey died at the age of 73. 

Vesey had been “so happy” to learn the saga of his lost funds was coming to an end, according to his lawyer, Mary McCune, a staff attorney at Manhattan Legal Services, who works with low-income New Yorkers on consumer issues, including identity theft and debt collection. The two years that Vesey and McCune spent pushing Chase to return the funds had cost Vesey both financially and emotionally. When Vesey initially learned the money had been taken, he was “scared to hell,” he’d said recently in an interview. 

The funds in his Chase account came from his paychecks over the years as well as an IRA he’d partially liquidated in order to pay for housing expenses and rehabilitation following surgery. During the period he’d fought the bank over the money, he’d faced the possibility of eviction because he was counting on the funds to pay rent. The years-long battle had pushed him to contemplate suicide. 

“I try not to do it, because that’s not the way I was brought up,” he said last month. “I see the writing on the wall, I start saying ‘well, if it’s going to be that way, there’s no such thing as golden years.’”  

It’s hard to say exactly how many people are battling their bank over funds they say they’ve lost to fraud, but the data suggest Vesey’s case isn’t unique. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received 17,800 complaints in 2021 from consumers about managing a checking or savings account, including complaints about identity theft and fraudulent activity. 

Attorneys who work with low-income consumers like Vesey say it’s not uncommon for clients to find themselves fighting big banks over funds they’ve lost through unauthorized activity. Often these clients are in a vulnerable position — they may be older, work multiple jobs, struggle to speak English, or face mobility challenges — that can make it difficult for them to spend time on hold or in branches working to get their money back. 

“There’s just a lot of barriers and obstacles if you’re navigating it on your own and it feels unfair when you don’t really have bargaining power as a consumer,” said Carla Sanchez-Adams, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.  “You have this bank and there’s layers and layers of red tape at a bank — you have to go higher and higher and escalate it and that doesn’t work and that’s unfortunately why you end up needing an attorney.” 

Banks’ handling of fraud claims has also resulted in some headline-grabbing penalties. Last year, regulators fined Bank of America $225 million over the bank’s approach to fraud inquiries for prepaid debit cards consumers could use to access unemployment benefits during the pandemic. In the fall of 2020, following a surge of pandemic-era fraud claims, the bank started using an automated system to investigate fraud, which ran afoul of the law, the regulators alleged. As a result, in some cases, consumers’ legitimate fraud claims were denied in error and legitimate accounts were frozen in cases where they believed fraud occurred based on the automated system. 

When the fine was announced, Bank of America

noted that it had helped states successfully issue more than $250 billion in pandemic unemployment benefits to more than 14 million people. “This action arose despite the government’s own acknowledgement that the unemployment program expansion during the pandemic created unprecedented criminal activity where illegal applicants were able to get states to approve tens of billions of dollars in payments,” the bank said at the time. “Bank of America partnered with states to identify and fight fraud throughout the pandemic.” 

Big banks’ posture towards consumers concerned about unauthorized withdrawals is also part of a broad inquiry launched by the CFPB last year into the ways these institutions respond when consumers seek information about their accounts. 

“It is such a widespread problem, not just in identity theft, but generally, in terms of banks not providing appropriate customer service to people and the impacts it has on their clients’ lives,” McCune said. 

Attorneys who work with consumers, including McCune, say it’s not uncommon for bank representatives to throw obstacles in the way of depositors seeking the return of their funds after they suspect fraudulent activity. For example, they may ask the customer to file a police report, even though in some cases the law requires banks to investigate a claim of fraudulent activity without it.  

But, according to McCune, that Vesey’s case took so long to resolve is particularly “egregious.” 


Vesey and his power of attorney, Janice Yeung, first became aware that money was disappearing from the account when Yeung received a text alert about a $4,000 withdrawal from Vesey’s account on March 24, 2020. Initially, according to a letter and documentation McCune sent to Chase, they assumed it had been some sort of mistake, but when Yeung received another text alert on April 2, 2020 noting that $7,000 had been taken, they realized someone had stolen Vesey’s identity to withdraw money from his account. 

During this period, Vesey didn’t have access to his bank card, according to McCune’s letter to Chase. Previously, his card had been rejected at an ATM, and after Vesey told the bank it didn’t work, he had been informed a new one would be sent to him in 10 days. When the 10 days passed and he didn’t receive the card, Vesey went to the bank and reported that it hadn’t arrived, McCune wrote. He was told to wait for it, according to McCune’s letter. Vesey never received a replacement card and McCune wrote that “upon information and belief,” it was never canceled though Vesey had asked the bank to do so.  

The pandemic, when Vesey and Yeung discovered the unauthorized withdrawals, was a period during which mailboxes were tempting targets for theft. That’s because in some regions and apartment complexes, stimulus checks were arriving in droves. At the time, Vesey lived in a Brooklyn apartment.

‘You have this bank and there’s layers and layers of red tape at a bank — you have to go higher and higher and escalate it and that doesn’t work and that’s unfortunately why you end up needing an attorney.” 

— Carla Sanchez-Adams, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center

After Vesey and Yeung determined he’d been the victim of identity theft, the two went to a Chase branch on Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood to report the theft, but staff accused them of withdrawing the money themselves, according to communications McCune sent to Chase. Yeung and Vesey asked the staff to review security footage, but they refused to do so, McCune wrote. 

“No one told us how to file a claim or anything so we don’t know what to do,” Yeung said in an interview. 

They decided to go to a different Chase bank branch in Manhattan’s Chinatown area because Yeung had a friend who worked there. There, they filled out a form to report the fraudulent activity and were told that a manager would fax the form to the right office so Chase could evaluate their claim. The two returned to that Chinatown branch multiple times seeking the status of the investigation and were assured by staff there that it was ongoing and they would be notified when it concluded, according to McCune’s communications with Chase.  

For two years, Vesey and Yeung didn’t hear anything about the status of the investigation and they eventually sought representation from McCune, who wrote a letter to Chase inquiring about the situation. The bank responded saying Vesey’s claim had been denied. Chase sent the denial notice to an old address of Vesey’s even though Yeung had changed the address associated with the account to her own. 

The bank initially denied Vesey’s claim because it said he and Yeung didn’t file a report within 30 days of the unauthorized fund transfers appearing on Vesey’s bank statement, as specified by his contract with the bank. According to McCune’s communications with Chase, Vesey and Yeung filed the complaint within that period, but the bank’s central office did not receive it for another month or so.


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is scrutinizing how big banks treat customers seeking information about their accounts. Attorneys say their clients can struggle to get good customer service when reporting unauthorized withdrawls.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A suite of federal laws and regulations are supposed to protect consumers from having funds taken from their accounts without their authorization and, in cases where it happens, ensuring they get the money back. One law requires banks to develop and implement written identity theft prevention programs, another is meant to protect consumers from losing out on their money in cases of fraudulent activity. 

The law that often protects consumers when their funds are transferred from their account without authorization is the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. The law covers electronic withdrawals like those from an ATM or a Zelle transfer. 

Vesey’s money was taken at a teller window using his ATM card and PIN as identification — not through an electronic transfer. But McCune, Vesey’s attorney, argued to Chase that a section of the EFTA ensures that a consumer has no liability for fraudulent funds taken from their account if the money is withdrawn with something other than an ATM card and the consumer notifies the bank within 60 days of receiving the statement that highlights the transaction. Even if the EFTA did not apply to Vesey’s case, McCune said his funds should have been protected by provisions in his account holder agreement, and that Chase’s conduct also could have violated certain New York consumer protection laws.

Though there are laws in place to protect consumers, individual bank account holders may not have the time to persist on hold for, in some cases, several hours to file or follow up on a claim, said Sanchez-Adams. They may also struggle to travel to a bank branch in person because of mobility issues or job conflicts. Even when consumers are able to speak to someone about the unauthorized withdrawal they often don’t get good information, Sanchez-Adams added. 

The burden of proof is on the bank to prove the activity was authorized, it’s not the consumer’s job to prove that they didn’t make the transaction,  she said of the EFTA’s requirements.  “Banks get that wrong often.”

The act is “very consumer friendly,” in other ways too, said Christopher Odinet, a professor at University of Iowa’s College of Law. For example, even if a consumer is negligent in a way that makes it relatively easy for someone to access their account information — for example writing their PIN number on their debit card — the bank is still required to return unauthorized funds. Consumers can also sue under the act.

“You can get actual damages, you can get statutory damages, in some cases you can even get punitive damages, and you can collect attorneys fees and court costs and you,” Odient said. 

During her time representing low-income clients in Texas’ Rio Grande region, Sanchez-Adams often had to help consumers because it wasn’t uncommon for bank representatives, both in-person and on the phone, to not understand, or just fail to comply, with their obligations to the consumer under the law, she said. In a couple of cases, she sued over the lost funds. 

“It often did require writing a letter and having a paper trail,”  Sanchez-Adams said of her advocacy, so that when “you inevitably had to file a lawsuit,” there were documents to support the consumer’s claims and experience, she said. 

McCune, Vesey’s attorney, also regularly works with clients who are struggling to get their money back in cases where they claim it’s been withdrawn without their permission, despite laws aimed at protecting them. She shared some of her clients’ experiences with the CFPB in July in response to the agency’s request for information about how big banks treat their customers.

After receiving phone alerts about suspicious activity on his account, one senior citizen client reported the situation to the bank immediately, McCune wrote. The money was withdrawn in the middle of the night, a time of day when the client wouldn’t leave the house because he has advanced glaucoma and struggles to see in the dark, she wrote. The money missing from the client’s account pushed him behind on rent. He was also forced to turn to soup kitchens for food during the height of the pandemic. The client didn’t get his money back until he sued the bank. 

In another case, a high school senior brought his father, an immigrant, to the bank to report identity theft on an account where the student was storing earnings from his summer job to save for college. The bank denied the claim, McCune wrote, accusing the student of making inconsistent statements. The inconsistency appeared to be a result of the bank representative misunderstanding the father’s accent, McCune wrote. 

In Vesey’s case, McCune wrote to the bank multiple times and spoke to representatives over the phone, sharing his experience and asserting his right to have his money returned under the law. In one December voicemail message left for McCune by a Chase employee explaining that Vesey’s claim was still denied, the employee told McCune, “I just do not agree with the claims department decision,” referring to the denial. 

“I am still working with the claims department to see if we can get these funds back,” the employee said. “I just don’t think that it is fair.” 

Ultimately, after the MarketWatch inquiry, Chase did agree to return Vesey’s funds, though he never got the chance to see how receiving the money would impact his life. His experience temporarily losing funds he’d saved for years had him questioning the banking system in a January interview. “What I can say clearly is I don’t trust the banks anymore,” he said weeks before his death. “Anytime I have anything to do with them, I want them to put it in writing what they say. From now on, I want paperwork with their names on it.” 

Source: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/elderly-postal-worker-fought-chase-bank-for-years-to-recover-stolen-funds-before-his-death-11675966609?siteid=yhoof2&yptr=yahoo