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I was the victim of a scam. The scammer posed as a person I wanted to do business with, and I was tricked into sending money from my bank account to another bank account using an account number and routing number. My question is:

In the United States, how is it possible that my bank does not know who this account belongs to, or even what bank it's registered in? In my mind, my bank looks up the number, gets a bank, sends money to the bank, and then that bank puts the money in the account. And then, if that's the case, I should be able to obtain this information and send it to the police and the detective handling my case.

I'm not asking for legal advice, just trying to understand how the system is anonymous when I myself had to provide ID to open an account, and presumably the other person on the line did too, and we're both working through legitimate financial institutions that you would think had stringent rules and records.

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    I think you'll need to provide more details about what has happened and what you are trying to achieve. Your bank certainly knows what bank the money went to. That bank is identified by the routing number, and you can look it up yourself. However your bank has no knowledge of the personal account of the corresponding bank. That's for the corresponding bank to handle. The corresponding bank may be reluctant to disclose information to you because you are neither the FBI nor a court. A lot of banking information is confidential. Jan 1 at 0:51
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    Why do you think that your bank doesn't know neither who the account belongs to nor what bank it's registered in?
    – Polygorial
    Jan 2 at 10:55

2 Answers 2

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The other bank knows, but is protecting their customer's privacy

Th fact that a routing number was needed says it is a completely different bank. Your bank is not privy to customer data at other banks.

The other bank has no earthly reason to share with your bank. And especially no reason to share with you, since that could only end badly for them.

They will, however, share it with the police officers who are investigating the scam. And they do know, because Know Your Customer laws require them to know.

They're just another victim anyway

The problem is, much as you might want to hope to drive to the scammer's house and give them a knuckle sandwich, it's not that simple. The person whose account that is is not the scammer. They are another scam victim, being used as a money mule. They were scammed into receiving stolen money and promptly turning into a digital currency that can be emailed such as Bitcoin or gift card numbers. The real scammers are a large criminal ring in a third world country with many ESL speakers and indifferent law enforcement. They are unreachable.

The real enemy here is your own naivete or task fixation, making you miss the signs which are now obvious in hindsight. That is an enemy you can defeat.

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    "The person whose account that is is not the scammer" - assuming that the scammer is smart, which is not necessarily a given.
    – Vikki
    Jan 1 at 18:39
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    @vsz well I wouldn't want to get the OP's hopes up. Somebody will be left holding the bag, either OP or another victim in the chain. That's the beauty of the scam (from the scammer's America-hating perspective): it sets victim against victim. Like the old joke, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!" Jan 1 at 21:12
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    @Jasen different deal there, there's a central authority who can invalidate the gift cards so the scammer loses (or anyone willing to pay good money for secondhand gift cards). If Bitcoin had clawback and followed Know Your Customer regulations, it would work there too. Really best idea is to have the FDIC run PSA's warning people not to buy Bitcoin, gift cards or Western Union for strangers, and stage high-visibility prosecutions of a few caught up in laundering. That would be terrible for cryptocurrency branding, but maybe that's not wrong. Jan 2 at 4:55
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica - "from the scammer's America-hating perspective" - I don't think they "hate America" any more than they "hate" Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or any other English-speaking first world country. Jan 2 at 10:22
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    @ysth OP to illuminate that the scammer is probably not in the same country, nor even in an Anglo country with our mutual system of extradition... and to inform that when a "friend" or scammer is skittish of using video or audio chat, that is a red flag for them not being who they represent themselves to be (i.e. a fellow national). Do you think it is problematic? Jan 2 at 20:27
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If you have a routing number, you can almost always do a Google search and figure out what bank the money went to. Routing numbers are public information. You won't be able to determine who owns the particular account the money went into however. Your bank won't know who the destination account belongs to either.

If the police get a warrant, they can ask the destination bank who owns the account your money was sent to. Of course, that person is probably not the scammer. It's probably a patsy that was scammed into being a money mule or otherwise unwitting participant in the scam. There is a decent chance that the trail ends with some anonymous transaction-- the money mule bought gift cards or bitcoin or something like that.

As a practical matter, chasing that trail often requires a lot of police resources particularly for the relatively small amounts of money involved. If you're dealing with police in, say, California but the destination bank is in New York, California police would need to reach out to New York police to speak with the recipient. That recipient will almost certainly point the finger at someone else in yet another state. Eventually, you'll find that someone in, say, Kansas was told to convert the money to bitcoin and send it to an anonymous wallet that is likely owned by someone in a foreign country.

As for why your bank is reluctant to give you information, banking information is supposed to be private. The customer service rep may well believe you that you were the victim of a scam but they have no way to verify that. If they could determine who owned the destination account (say because the routing number actually went back to the same bank) and they gave that information out without a warrant, they could be liable if you turned out to be a stalker or if you decided to take matters into your own hands and go confront the person that you sent money to. If the police want that information, they're free to get a warrant and ask for it.

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    Why criminal? Why not a civil suit and a subpoena to recover monies?
    – paulj
    Jan 3 at 12:38
  • @paulj, the bank did nothing wrong and op doesn’t know who the recipient is to sue them.
    – quid
    Jan 5 at 17:27
  • @quid - John Doe, with routing number rrr, and account number nnn...
    – paulj
    Jan 6 at 12:21
  • Sure, and who figures out the identity of John Doe? You can file suits all you want but judgements don’t fall out of the sky. A civil court isn’t going to go figure out who you’re suing for you.
    – quid
    Jan 6 at 16:53

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