Sunova reverses decision, gives full refunds to dozens of scammed customers

By | September 19, 2020

A Manitoba credit union has reversed its decision and will fully refund all customers who fell victim to a phishing scam, after CBC reported dozens were initially charged a $1,000 deductible in order to get their money back.

Sunova Credit Union informed affected customers Thursday that a full refund, including the deductible, had been deposited into their account after they were bilked upwards of $3,000 through the scam.

“Relieved, huge relief,” said JoAnne Nelson. “I am feeling validated and I am happy for everybody,”

Nelson is one of the 48 customers who lost thousands of dollars last month after logging onto what they thought was their Sunova online banking account.

What they had actually clicked on was a mirrored website set up through a Google ad that stole their banking information before sending them back to the Sunova website.

The scammers would then log into the accounts using the stolen credentials and e-transfer themselves money.

Victims mobilized against credit union policy

Nelson first noticed her money was gone in early August, when she was notified that $3,000 had been e-transferred from her rarely-used savings account to a name she did not recognize.

Nelson soon learned dozens of other Sunova customers were affected, and each victim was being told to sign a release and pay a $1,000 deductible in order to get their money back.

“And I said, ‘Per person? You mean every single member who’s had money taken has to pay $1,000?’ And [the representative] said yes,” Nelson told CBC earlier this month. “I started to cry at that point, and then I said, ‘I just don’t understand.… I caught it the day it happened.’

Sunova posted a warning on its website on Aug. 14 explaining members had fallen victim to a fake ad posted on the search engine Google. (https://www.sunovacu.ca/)

Nelson and several other victims refused to sign the release, and instead started writing letters to the credit union, to the credit union’s ombudsman and to CBC. They felt Sunova didn’t do enough to warn them of the scam and the credit union was liable for the money being stolen.

In the initial story, the credit union told CBC it was not obligated refund the money, as it was not a security breach on the company’s part, but was doing it as a courtesy.

The $1,000 deductible was to cover the costs incurred by the credit union because they had to make an insurance claim, a spokesperson said.

All 48 victims get full refund

However, in an email sent to Nelson Thursday, co-authored by the credit union’s CEO and board chair, said Sunova has changed its mind due to the “sophisticated” nature of the scam.

“On behalf of Sunova, we would like to extend our sincerest apologies for the financial losses, stress, and frustration incurred as a result of the recent phishing scam,” wrote CEO Edward Bergen and board chair Lesli Malegus.

“The events, your concerns and our handling of the situation has been critically reviewed and discussed with the board executive. As a result, we have decided to reimburse your loss in full, including the applicable deductible, given the sophisticated nature of the scam.”  

An example of what the fake Sunova website looked like in August. (sunovacu.ca)

A spokesperson for Sunova said all 48 victims got a full refund, even those that signed the release and paid the $1,000 deductible.

“We will continue to use this as an educational opportunity for our organization,” Vanessa Foster said in a prepared statement.

Nelson said she is grateful Sunova is giving her the full refund, and grateful she didn’t sign the release so she could fighting for victims.

She is now more cautious when logging onto her online bank account.

She says she has no regrets standing up to the credit union. 

“I don’t think I would want to go through this again,” she said. “But it was worth everything I went through [to get the money back].”

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