First Hawaiian Bank accounts compromised

Unauthorized withdrawals made in hundreds of accounts

Worried and irate account holders of First Hawaiian Bank lined up at their branches in Oleai and Gualo Rai as news of compromised accounts spread through word of mouth and social media yesterday.

Varying amounts were withdrawn from accounts ranging from $100 to thousands of dollars, even as high as $30,000 according to customers. Some experienced single transactions while others had multiple withdrawals from their accounts.

In her bank records, one customer noted an unauthorized transaction with the description “network withdrawal Thai Farmers” which was still processing and was only carried out yesterday.

Another FHB customer from San Vicente checked her account online and saw three transactions totaling to about $500.

“They told me they’re going to cancel my card, send a new one and that their supervisor will call me back,” the customer said after calling the customer service in Hawaii.

She said they didn’t tell her if she’s going to get her money back and added that her brother’s account also lost the same amount.

The customer said it was a huge inconvenience and since her card was cancelled already, she can’t withdraw the rest of her money.

“Of course it is an inconvenience. I have to pay for my car loan, to pay for my bills,” the customer said.

Margie Alejandro of San Antonio lined up at FHB’s Chalan Laulau branch for two hours yesterday to check on her account.

“The teller said I am one of the victims. It’s not a lot, but it’s still money,” Alejandro said, “They told me to file for a dispute or contact their customer service.”

Alejandro wasn’t advised on when her money will be returned.

Nadia Weilbacher Benjamin found out about her account being compromised when she was withdrawing that morning.

“I was really swiping away at the stores then went to withdraw. When I saw a negative balance, I freaked out,” Benjamin said, “Thank goodness I paid my car and bills last week! All that I had left was $160 and it’s gone!”

Savings accounts also compromised, ongoing hacking

While most of the unauthorized transactions occurred in checking accounts, it seems that some savings accounts were compromised as well.

Marie Gallardo of Garapan lost almost $500 in her savings account from an international transaction that was made yesterday. She said FHB has blocked her account.

Unauthorized transactions went on withdrawing money from customers’ accounts until yesterday afternoon.

There are also those who, although were not victimized, opted to close their accounts at FHB. One of them is Trench Tech promoter Cuki Alvarez.

“As soon as I heard, I closed my accounts,” Alvarez said.

Saipan Tribune tried to reach out to FHB for more information on the apparent hacking, but it has yet to reply to inquiries.

In a statement, FHB said that they are trying to minimize the impact and reminded their customers to review their transactions.

“We want to assure our customers that we are aware of the situation in Saipan and are working actively to minimize impact.  Customers will not be liable for any fraudulent activity on their accounts,” FHB said.

“We ask that customers review recent transactions. If they suspect fraudulent activity, please call the phone number on the back of the card,” it added.

Other banks

While several social media posts circulated that Bank of Guam also experienced the same problem, it is not clear if there are indeed accounts that were compromised.

In a vague statement, BOG said they are aware of the social media posts and assures customers that they will not be liable for unauthorized transactions made.

“Bank of Guam is aware of social media messages identifying fraudulent transactions on Saipan. We would like to assure our customers that they will not be liable for unauthorized transactions on their accounts,” BOG said.

“Bank of Guam would also like to take this opportunity to remind customers to monitor their accounts regularly and notify the Bank immediately if they find any unauthorized activity. Our customers can check their accounts via our IFIT online, mobile and voice services, at any of our ATM and Branch locations or by calling us 24/7 at (671) 472-5300,” it added.

Several Bank of Hawaii customers have also gone to their office in Middle Road to check on their accounts but it was not clear if there were unauthorized transactions.

No official statement was issued by Bank of Hawaii and no replies were made to inquiries as of press time.

Looking into the matter

The CNMI local government said it has notified authorities to look into the matter.

“We are noticing an uptick on social media about unauthorized withdrawals from customers’ bank accounts by hackers or a hacker in Southeast Asia. While we do not have detailed information at the moment, we have notified our local authorities to look into this matter most urgently,” CNMI Joint Information Center said in a Facebook post.

According to CNMI Banking director and Commerce Secretary Mark O. Rabauliman they are gathering information regarding the incident.

“We hope that the different institutions will be able to give us information before the close of business today,” Rabauliman told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

“We’re reaching out so that we can get the facts to be able to respond accordingly. I believe that we need to give opportunity to our banking institutions to try and contain it plus give us the facts,” he added.

Rabauliman asked for the public’s patience and understanding.

“For the public at large, we ask everybody to stay calm and let the necessary protocol to take its place,” Rabauliman said.

“Most of our banks here in the CNMI are FDIC insured so I’m hoping that people don’t run into a panic or start panicking,” he added.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, its insurance covers all deposit accounts, including checking and savings accounts, money market deposit accounts and certificates of deposit.

The standard insurance amount is $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each account ownership category.

Frauleine S. Villanueva-Dizon | Reporter
Frauleine Michelle S. Villanueva was a broadcast news producer in the Philippines before moving to the CNMI to pursue becoming a print journalist. She is interested in weather and environmental reporting but is an all-around writer. She graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Journalism and was a sportswriter in the student publication.

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