KeyBank dispute resolved!

KeyBank has resolved this dispute in my favour after a discussion with Mastercard. I really appreciate their courtesy and professionalism in the matter. I am happy that in the end my request was listened to in a human manner and treated courteously which I think is something all banks should give to their customers. In contrast to a recent case where Chase caused the arrest of a man wrongly and apologised for it, KeyBank treated my dispute with respect and ultimately resolved it properly. My original details are below for posterity's sake but it should be noted that in the end KeyBank did the right thing.


I am complaining about KeyBank's handling of a fraudulent transaction that appeared on their MasterCard debit card and withdrew a ridiculously high amount [2] from my account. I disputed this transaction and KeyBank denied my dispute even though at no time did I authorise such a charge on my card, nor did I make any purchases remotely nearing that amount. All the supporting information produced by KeyBank (including a signature that is not mine) is information that could've been obtained from my card. I feel KeyBank has taken my money that I deposited in good faith and is not following established MasterCard policies in giving my money back. I have communicated with MasterCard, US PIRG, the FTC, and now the Comptroller of the Currency about this issue. I am not only just requesting that my debit card transaction be treated as fraudulent and have my money returned, but also pushing for better safeguards established for debit card transactions. KeyBank and MasterCard don't realise what they have done. It is such a shame for me to write this since I have great interactions with my local KeyBank branch staff, but the bureaucracy is heartless, siding with their dubious Chinese merchants instead of its (thus far) loyal clients [3].

Based on my experience, I highly recommend customers AVOID KeyBank for their banking needs and definitely avoid the KeyBank MasterCard debit card. We're being made fools of for trusting our money with this unfair bank.

More details

I filed a dispute with KeyBank for a ridiculously high charge from a merchant in Beijing, China in the Sanlitun District which I initially didn't recognise. I thought it was either an error or a hotel charge that I forgot about (since I was on a long work related trip). KeyBank then produced documentation that was simply a credit card slip/receipt (with a signature that is not mine) showing a charge for the above amount around the time I was at a small bar in the Sanlitun District. (I went to this particular area since I was tired and jet lagged, it's the only place I knew to goto to get some street food, and so I could reminisce about my previous travelling with my students and collaborators in Beijing, who now use Shenzen as their main base of operations.) Here I had two soft nonalcoholic drinks (oddly they didn't have either Coca Cola OR Pepsi so it was something like an orange juice) and a small peanut snack. When I asked for the bill I was told it was 200 yuan/RMB. I attempted to pay with my MasterCard which was taken from me and then returned about 30 minutes later (seriously, though I didn't really think too much about it at first [4]) and told that it didn't work. I then paid 30 US dollars cash with the paper money that I had and thought nothing of it.

The MasterCard I gave resulted in me being fraudulently charged a ridiculously higher amount on my card for two drinks and a snack even though I ultimately paid in cash. At no time did I agree or authorise this charge on my MasterCard. All the information provided by KeyBank is something that is easily gotten from someone who has physical access to my card (i.e., name and signature). There was no pin used. There is no identification information. I have complained to KeyBank that this transaction is fraudulent yet KeyBank has sided with the merchant without any additional proof. For example, the merchant has not provided an itemised listing that would explain my total charge which I find extremely suspicious since there is no justification whatsoever for this charge because I don't drink alcohol and I was alone! It is not in my character at all to make such a large charge these days at a bar-like place. Instead KeyBank is asking ME to produce a cash receipt with their identifying information which I don't have since it was a small bar in a cluster of several bars (if people have been around the Sanlitun area you know what I mean). There is absolutely nothing in my spending behaviour during that trip that would jibe with this charge which stands out like a huge peak (or perhaps I should say trough, since I lost the money). Most of the time I paid cash and this was one of the rare times I tried to use my card since I had spent my RMB and I thought I was lucky I had US dollars. :/

The MasterCard Zero Liability policy states that any unauthorised transaction has zero liability. There are further rules about debit card liabilities for fraud which range from $50 to $500. (I did notify KeyBank immediately of noticing the fraud and within two days of the transaction.)

I feel that KeyBank has now taken my funds that I have deposited with them in good faith and given it fraudulently to a merchant without proper investigation and due process. If anyone is reading this that can address KeyBank and MasterCard's dubious practices, any help you can provide me in this matter would be appreciated. Conversely if you need assistance with changing the laws so that debit cards are protected by something like the Fair Credit Billing Act or even better [5], please contact me as I am devoting my energy and resources to this cause.

Alternate scenarios

As a scientist I wake up every day exciting about discovering ways I can falsify my own favourite hypotheses.

As a veteran of the Internet and the Web (this is one of the very first web pages and sites) I know there're always devil's advocates to anything one might say. People may ask why should the bank trust me instead of the merchant? This is really a "he said/she said" kind of argument in my view. I claim the signature is not mine and I didn't authorise the charge and the bank claims there is enough of a match of the signature on the receipt with my signatures from some past cheques and that's that. As I point out below [4], signature forgery tools are as good as signature identification tools, which seems reasonable. A merchant normally doesn't collect anything other than the information on the credit card (signature, name as it appears on the card, card number). But for high value purchases, merchants might check for an identification card and in many countries across the world, a purchase like this would've resulted in my passport being copied. The merchant hasn't produced anything at all like this. Just the small credit card receipt without the itemised listing of charges, etc. I think it's suspicious. The bank thinks it's enough.

There has been one occasion in my life where I did indeed completely forget a transaction I had made in a foreign country. I just inquired about it and I got back documentation that included the passport and visa pages, my driver's license, and of course an itemised list detailing the transaction. Here there's no such thing. Just the receipt.

In the bank's scenario then, I must some how have made the purchase without me realising it. Perhaps I was hynotised or drugged! But then why not produce more information? Why not indeed get a copy of my passport (which I was carrying) or another identification card? Why stop at that amount I was charged [6]?

What about motive? I don't have any. The merchant clearly could see a friendly and weary foreigner who perhaps looked to him as "easy pickings". I'd bet this happens at that place fairly often. I asked some of my Chinese friends here who are familiar with that area and they were not surprised, and they said I might've even sparked it off by being a "cheap" spender (i.e., not drinking alcohol and planning to leave sooner than they'd like). They also said I have little recourse there locally since the authorities are corrupt and the cops are on the take and will even go against you.

All this isn't about the money anymore. The money itself isn't important to me: it's the principle.


  1. I understand credit cards are a better deal with the Fair Credit Billing Act and the fact that your money doesn't get taken out immediately, but I am averse to credit. There's no logical reason debit cards should be less equally protected and KeyBank MasterCard should step up to the place and guarantee the same protection for its debit cards that it would for its credit cards.
  2. I was advised to not provide the dollar amount and other specific information for my complaints to random third parties though it is there inside the web page if you look cleverly. If there is enough interest I can think about putting up the receipt and all other dodcumentation the bank has sent me with key information blacked out. There's also more detail I should add to this page about the bar itself which I have a very fuzzy recollection of since it's just one more small bar in set of about 50 or so bars all clustered together. It's just a LONG row of bars. And there are touts who try to grab you as you walk past each bar and try to get you in, and I was humouring one of them when another tout came up to me and told me to go "his" bar. His English was good so I followed him and look what happened.
  3. I have to say that at all points I have received nothing other than exemplery customer service from KeyBank. The case managers and their supervisors are all very supportive but extremely apologetic saying there's nothing they can do about it.
  4. According to a person I know who does handwriting analysis professionally, forging signatures using software has apparently gotten really sophisticated when you have a handwriting/signature sample since it incorporates a huge amount of data points that apparently even the best human forgers don't. There are software programs available that can analyse handwriting samples and produce a signature that is a random variation of the handwriting and allegedly it is surprisingly turns out to match up with people's scribbles. And you know, some people are just excellent copiers anyway. BTW, I'm not saying they took the card so long to forge a signature on the spot, since they could've run the card through and made a copy and made a forged signature in their own due course, or found samples of my handwriting nearby. I did slightly use my card in that same area for about two days where I actually signed for purchases and there may have been connections. This sounds like a stretch but who knows. Credit card fraud in Beijing is rampant (google).
  5. I think the debit card system of taking your money when you use it is a good thing from a financial management perspective (for me at least, and from what I read on the Web, for quite a few others). When the banks credit your money during a dispute (which usually happens quickly) then they shouldn't automatically be able to take that money back but rather it should be like the credit cards, where the customer can refuse to pay and then the credit cards have to try to get their money back by other means instead of raiding the customer's bank account. There's some sort of a conflict of interest issue here with a debit card issuer making the decisions about debit card disputes and charges and most importantly, having the power to arbitrarily enforce that decision (i.e., take the money back).
  6. I believe I can answer this because when I first spoke to the bank representative, the person said there were actually two charges for about the same amount (but not exactly the same) and the first turned out to be a preauthorisation. I'm not able to get more information on this, but I'm going to bet that the preauthorisation time coincides with the time I gave my card, and the actual charge time is out later, after they gave my card back and said it wouldn't work. So they checked to see how much they could charge me, a reasonable number where they didn't overdo or underdo it.

Complaints || Ram Samudrala ||