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Unemployed Californians, Lawmakers Beg Bank Of America For More Help In Wake Of Massive Fraud Scheme

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) -- It was the worst possible time for Mandy Styles to learn that Bank of America had denied her fraud case.

Styles said that fraudsters drained her unemployment account of more than $6,800 right as she was moving into a new apartment.

"The rent was due on the new lease, the deposit, all my refrigerator was empty," she said.

Styles reached out to CBS2/KCAL9 after her case was denied. Investigative reporter Kristine Lazar contacted Bank of America about Styles' case.

At first, the bank told Lazar that the claim was denied because the charges were made in West L.A. and Beverly Hills — not far from where Styles lives.

"I did not go to Sephora 40 times," Styles said. "I did not go to the Crack Shack 20 times. I begged her and begged her and I told her you need to look at security footage. You will see it's not me."

Finally, Bank of America decided to refund the money.

Lawmakers have been critical of how Bank of America has handled fraud claims. CBS San Francisco first reported about the fraudsters draining the accounts of unemployed Californians in October. At that time, the EDD office said 350,000 debit card accounts had been frozen due to suspected fraud.

Last week, Bank of America estimated that $2 billion had been stolen from California EDD accounts.

"Every day my office gets calls from desperate constituents," said Orange County Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, who introduced a bill that would allow those receiving unemployment to get their benefits via direct deposit.

"Which would take Bank of America out of the picture and would close that opportunity for fraud and that opportunity for our citizens to be left without benefits," she said.

Josh Tobin, an out-of-work music photographer, said fraudsters stole $1,000 out of his Bank of America account at an ATM 15 miles from his house.

"So on October 7th I filed the claim and on October 8th they denied my claim saying that I was somehow involved in this theft," he said. "The agent told me, I don't know if she was supposed to, that it was a blanket policy at the time to just deny all claims coming in, and that was evidenced that I was denied one day after the claim."

In a statement to CBS2/KCAL9,  Bank of America said:

"We are pleased we could resolve this matter. If we've made a decision that a cardholder disagrees with, we encourage people to contact us and we will review the claim again. We take any new information or further identity verification from the account holder, and if it addresses our concerns we will credit the account to the customer's benefit. We have added thousands of additional agents to answer phone calls and investigate claims for areas of the program we are responsible for and, as a result, our average wait time for callers has dropped dramatically."

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