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Widow fights to get pension out of stranger's account

Dobrinka Gueorguieva pores over bank and pension information at her home in Ottawa's Hunt Club neighbourhood. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)
Dobrinka Gueorguieva pores over bank and pension information at her home in Ottawa's Hunt Club neighbourhood. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)

A recently widowed Ottawa woman has had to fight her bank to get the pension funds she worked for returned to her after the financial institution deposited the money into someone else's account.

Dobrinka Gueorguieva's husband Gintcho died suddenly last March. Earlier that same month, Gueorguieva, a former hospital cleaner, provided a void cheque to the private pension fund that would begin making payments to her upon her planned retirement last June.

Gueorguieva believed the account number on the cheque was current, but told CBC her husband had done all the couple's banking when he was alive.

In spite of her husband's death, Gueorguieva pressed on with the couple's lifelong dream of taking their grandchildren on a tour of Bulgaria, the country they left in 1990.

It was there, where she sprinkled her husband's ashes on the soil of their homeland, that Gueorguieva discovered she was running out of money.

A photograph of Dobrinka Gueorguieva's late husband Gintcho stands in her dining room.
A photograph of Dobrinka Gueorguieva's late husband Gintcho stands in her dining room.

A photograph of Gueorguieva's late husband Gintcho sits in her dining room. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Bank 'recycled' account

When she returned home to Ottawa, Gueorguieva made the first of many visits to her CIBC branch in the Train Yards shopping district where she received some baffling news about the void cheque she'd provided.

"They tell me this account does not exist anymore," she recalled.

Gueorguieva was shocked to learn that the account number on the void cheque she'd provided to set up her pension deposits had been "recycled" by the bank around the time CIBC moved its branch from a plaza at the corner of Conroy Road and Lorry Greenberg Drive to the new location at Train Yards.

A partly-vacant building is the former home of Dobrinka Gueorguieva's CIBC branch at Conroy Road and Lorry Greenberg.
A partly-vacant building is the former home of Dobrinka Gueorguieva's CIBC branch at Conroy Road and Lorry Greenberg.

Gueorguieva's former CIBC branch at Conroy Road and Lorry Greenberg Drive. (Stu Mills/CBC)

There was more startling news. CIBC told Gueorguieva that five cheques from her pension income had been deposited into a stranger's account, and that customer had chosen not to return the money.

The bank told her it was able to recover the three most recent deposits because she'd caught the mistake within a 90-day complaint period.

But two months' worth of payments totalling $1139.71 — money paid out while she was mourning her husband in Bulgaria — could not be recovered, and Gueorguieva was told she'd need to take the other customer to court to get it back.

"It's very strange for me, and confusing," she said.

Had to borrow money

Gueorguieva said she defaulted on credit cards and borrowed from close friends and family to buy groceries and pay bills.

CIBC staff at the Train Yards branch declined to answer CBC's questions about Gueorguieva's predicament.

Michel Thellend, a paralegal working on Gueorguieva's behalf, filed a complaint with the bank using its internal complaint process.

Thellend said the CIBC branch manager explained to him that it normally checks account numbers for "conflicts" before they're assigned to new customers.

"It appears one eluded them," Thellend said.

Photographs from a long-planned return to Bulgaria are treasured memories in Dobrinka Gueorguieva's phone.
Photographs from a long-planned return to Bulgaria are treasured memories in Dobrinka Gueorguieva's phone.

Photographs from a long-planned return to Bulgaria are treasured memories in Gueorguieva's phone. (Stu Mills/CBC)

After CBC inquired with CIBC's head office about why the major bank wouldn't recognize its own role in the blunder and simply compensate Gueorguieva for the missing money, the retiree was reimbursed.

Last month she moved all of her banking to RBC.

Thellend said CIBC had been in contact with him about possible further compensation for Gueorguieva.