Comerica Bank is liable for more than a half a million dollars stolen in a 2009 cyber heist against a small business, a Michigan court ruled. Experts say the decision is likely to spur additional lawsuits from other victims that have been closely watching the case.
Judge Patrick J. Duggan found that Dallas-based Comerica failed to act “in good faith” in January 2009, January 2009, when it processed almost 100 wire transfers within a few hours from the account of Experi-Metal Inc. (EMI), a custom metals shop based in Sterling Heights, Mich. The transfers that were not recovered amounted to $560,000.
“A bank dealing fairly with its customer, under these circumstances, would have detected and/or stopped the fraudulent wire activity earlier,” Duggan wrote. Judge Duggan has yet to decide how much Comerica will have to pay.
A closely-watched court battle over how far commercial banks need to go to protect their customers from cyber theft is drawing to a conclusion. Experts said the decision recommended by a magistrate last week — if adopted by a U.S. district court in Maine — will make it more difficult for other victim businesses to challenge the effectiveness of security measures employed by their banks.
In May 2009, Sanford, Maine based Patco Construction Co. filed suit against Ocean Bank, a division of Bridgeport, Conn. based People’s United Bank. Pacto used online banking primarily to make weekly payroll payments. Patco said cyber thieves used the ZeuS trojan to steal its online banking credentials, and then heisted $588,000 in batches of fraudulent automated clearing house (ACH) transfers over a period of seven days.
In the weeks following the incident, Ocean Bank managed to block or claw back $243,406 of the fraudulent transfers, leaving Patco with a net loss of $345,445. Because the available funds in Patco’s account were less than the total fraudulent withdrawals, the bank drew $223,237 on Patco’s line of credit to cover the transfers. Patco ended up paying interest on that amount to avoid defaulting on its loans.
Patco sued to recover its losses, arguing in part that Ocean Bank failed to live up to the terms of its contract when it allowed customers to log in to accounts using little more than a user name and password. On May 27, a magistrate recommended that the court make Patco the loser by denying Pacto’s motion for summary judgment and grating the bank’s motion.
A lawsuit headed to court this week over the 2009 cyber theft of more than a half-million dollars from a small metals shop in Michigan could help draw brighter lines on how far banks need to go to protect their business customers from account takeovers and fraud.