Rest assured that there are people out there who seem to never stop figuring out ways to rip you off in creative and covert ways. Found another one today, accidentally.
I logged in to my bank today and noticed a slight change in the savings account balance. I looked and there was a charge of $7 from a company I had never heard of before, Albert Genius. I looked further and found that they have been debiting $7 per month since June! I dug in further and had my wife get on the phone to the bank. It turned out they were also debiting $25 per month from our checking account.
We have never set up a relationship with this company or authorized any debits. So, WTF! The rep at our bank told us she would put a stop payment on the transactions, but that company apparently changed its origination ID every month which could make that a problem.
I started searching up Albert Genius on the web and very quick found a bunch of BBB.org complaints from people trying to get refunds for withdrawals that they had not authorized. We weren’t alone, in other words.
Albert Genius has an app in Apple’s App Store and in Google Play. They advertise themselves this way:
WE’RE BANKING ON YOU
At Albert, we want you to win. So we built a better banking, saving, investing, and budgeting solution — with a Genius team of money experts to guide you. And an Albert debit card that gives you cash back. Set up direct deposit and your paycheck becomes available up to 2 days earlier. Then save, manage, and invest it in the app.
But the persistent question is, how did they get our banking information. It turns out that my wife downloaded their app in September of 2019 and did not use it. She deleted it. But now years later we find them sucking little drips of money from our accounts. I decided to look up how many people have downloaded this app. That data was hard to find. But I did find that there were over 129,000 reviews.
Meanwhile the question of “why are you taking my money” is so prevalent for these guys that they have a the following support Q & A on their site:
I didn’t sign up for Genius, why are you charging me?
We’re sorry for any confusion regarding Albert transactions. If you’re not a Genius customer what may look like a charge is, in fact, a transfer to your Albert Savings account.
This is your money, we’re saving it automatically for you (and paying you a bonus on your Savings balance!). You can read more about how Savings works here.
If you still have questions about Savings or related account transfers, please contact Albert support.
Not reassuring. Notice that the question was not answered at all.
This company apparently has a high ranking in Apple’s App Store with a 4.6 star rating. Yet it appears to be a covert criminal operation—at least as far as our accounts are concerned. We never used their app, but somehow they managed to get into our bank and start charging—in small enough amounts that many people might not notice—with notations like “Monthly service fee.”
Scale this up to thousands or hundreds of thousands of accounts and you have a massive theft amounting to potentially millions of dollars happening right under Apple’s or Google’s nose as well as the banks and a good number of customers.
The lesson here is Caveat Emptor! (Latin lesson for the day. The phrase refers to the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made.) We as the consumers of financial and other apps on your phones and devices must remain vigilant.
There are some very sophisticated and slick operations out there with clever and well-designed social veneers. The best possible screening procedures by app store operators can’t detect bad business practices and criminality beyond the code in the app. So it is up to us to guard our wallets and then fight back and expose operations like this one.
Marty Kassowitz is co-founder of Factkeepers. As founder of Interest Factory and View360, he brings more than 30 years experience in effective online communications, social media management, and platform development to the site. He is a writer, designer, editor and long time observer of the ill-logic demonstrated by too many members of the species known as Mankind. After a long history of somewhat private commentary on a subject he totally hates: politics, Marty was encouraged to build this site and put up his own analyses as well as curate relevant content from other sources.