SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — It is marketed as an easy and simple online banking experience, but some customers of the banking app Chime said when they had problems with their accounts, Chime did not help them.
State regulators said Chime is what is called a "neobank" that uses financial technology (also known as "fintech") to operate, primarily in the digital space.
Nicholas Traub is a Chime user. He and his girlfriend, Margaret Goleniak, dated for 11 years. He admits they have had their share of ups and downs.
"I've been clean for a while and trying to go to school and trying to put my life back together," Traub said.
Traub said he and Goleniak were turning things around. Traub was working, and they were both enrolled in college programs. His world was shattered when Goleniak died of a heart condition this summer.
"It's really difficult to find myself in my life going forward," Traub said.
His professor helped him set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for her funeral. Traub said he transferred that money to his Chime account to give to his girlfriend's family. Traub put all of his money, including his financial aid and wages from his job, in that account.
In September, he said he noticed odd transactions for random amounts—something he said he didn't do. Within a couple of days, his account was drained.
"I thought it was safe. How could they get my account information? I don't know," Traub questioned.
He lost more than $3,000. Traub filed a dispute with Chime. He said within a day or so, Chime denied it.
I think Nicholas has been victimized twice, once by the people who took his money and once by Chime bank," said Dr. Nora Kenney-Whitley, the coordinator at Palomar College Transitions and Traub's professor. "They did not help him at all. In fact, they denied his claim and have left him penniless."
Traub is not the only San Diegan dealing with this. Martin Pamatz lost his wallet in February with his Chime Visa card in it. He tried to reach someone at Chime about what he said were unauthorized transactions.
"One of them, it's like a money transfer. The other one is Facebook ads, and then the other one is for a hotel in Cancun or something," Pamatz said.
In his case, he said he lost more than $2,500. He said Chime denied his appeal within a couple of days.
"They never gave me an explanation as to what they found or how they basically made the decision," Pamatz said.
Team 10 asked Chime about both Traub and Pamatz's cases. A spokesperson said they stand by their decision to deny the claims, adding they audited Traub and Pamatz's accounts twice. Kendra Boccelli, the Director of Corporate Communications for Chime, wrote in both instances, "the data and facts surrounding the member's account access and transaction history" support the original decision.
“Our team thoroughly reviews in app activity, the member’s card activity and pin status, as well as location and transaction activity and data, coupled with statements given by a member to determine if an error occurred,” Boccelli said.
Boccelli initially said she would connect Team 10 with a member of the fraud team for additional information, but a team member was never made available.
"Every industry, every business goes through a certain amount of growing pains," said financial planner Dennis Brewster.
Brewster said this industry is growing. "It's not going away. It's just trying to use technology to create a better system and hopefully a better experience for the consumer," he added.
However, many have not had a good experience. A search of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's database shows more than 1,400 complaints about Chime from January 2020 to late October this year. Complaints ranged from fraudulent transactions, accounts closed without warning, and accounts opened without the customer's knowledge.
"Especially with the pandemic, a lot of people opened these accounts to get deposits from either the stimulus payments or unemployment," said attorney Jeremy Golden, who deals with consumer law. Golden said he has dealt with a growing number of clients who have had issues with neobanks.
"I think part of the reason is because they're not as regulated as the banks are. They're kind of a new creation and so some of the established regulations may not apply to these neobanks," Golden said.
Brewster said the FDIC and other regulators oversee traditional banks, but neobanks like Chime do not fall under the same rules.
The Department of Financial Protection and Innovation wants to make a clear distinction when it comes to Chime.
"Chime is not a bank. It represents a banking partnership," said DFPI spokesperson Maria Luisa Cesar.
State regulators said Chime previously marketed itself as a bank. An internet archive search for Chime in late 2019 shows its website used to be called ChimeBank.com. Its website showcased reviews saying it was the "best" and a great "online bank."
Earlier this year, the DFPI filed an administrative action against Chime for its website address and the way it described its services.
"We required them to change their URL and we required them to review extensively their marketing and web page materials in order to ensure that consumers have a better sense of the fact that they are not a bank," Cesar said.
The department recommends that anyone with a problem contact them and the bank that companies like Chime partner with.
On Chime's current website, a small disclaimer says it is a "financial technology company."
For Traub, the small warning does not help him recoup his money that was meant to help pay for his girlfriend's funeral.
The issues with financial technology companies are getting the attention of the federal government. Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio asked the CFPB to investigate the risks of fintech, like Chime.
Cesar said consumers could file a complaint with the DFPI at this link: https://dfpi.ca.gov/file-a-complaint/ [dfpi.ca.gov] or by phone: 1-866-275-2677. It offers translation services in dozens of languages and never asks for a person's immigration status.