Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Crank of America

The tale you are about to hear is true. The events that unfolded culminated yesterday, and I have since decided to dedicate an article to it. Clark Howard, are you out there? This one is for you.

I have had the same bank account since 1989, when I opened one with the now defunct BankSouth, the best bank I have ever had. BankSouth initiated opening outlets in Kroger stores and keeping tellers and setting hours in the evening so that people could actually speak and interact with bank tellers and managers. This is a novel concept in the age of choosing options through annoying phone machines by pressing buttons. The people they hired were outstanding, customer service wise. It was a situation I was completely happy with.

BankSouth was regrettably bought out by NationsBank and managers were replaced resulting in the loss of many of the people that I had come to know who had helped me over the years. NationsBank was in turn bought out by Bank of America. Keep your seatbelts fastened, it gets better.

A week ago last Saturday my car blew up. Not literally, but the engine began making such a racket that I knew something was terribly wrong. There was an America’s Service Station across the road from the store where I was parked, so I managed to limp over there in my struggling vehicle. They were nice enough to provide a courtesy ride home for me while they checked out my vehicle, a 2000 Ford Escort. When they had finished evaluating it, the news was not good. I had blown a valve or some such thing, and the engine needed to be replaced entirely. The estimate was $3000 or more.

Rather than commit myself to such an expensive repair, I decided to have the transmission in my 1996 Mitsubishi Might Max pickup (which had been languishing in the garage for 2 years) rebuilt, which would cost more on the order of $2000. After checking with Amy, my sister, about my credit rating (thanks, Amy), I proceeded to MAKO Federal Credit Union where I have had a small savings account for 10 years, for a loan.

I received an unsecured loan for $3000, the extra just in case the pickup needed work besides just the transmission. The folks there were great. They approved my loan and even offered to have the monthly payments deducted directly from my paycheck, which I readily agreed to.

I took the cashier’s check they had cut and made payable to myself to Bank of America the next day. It was 2 minutes after 4:00 pm. I had wanted to speak with a manager to make certain these funds would go directly into my account. They told me to go around and make the deposit in to the teller machine. Grrr. I stomped my feet outside the bank and made angry noises, then went around to do my business with the infernal machine. I signed the check, put my account number on it and made the deposit.

I monitored the account on my computer at home. After 2 days I noticed that a hold had been placed on the deposit. What the hell? I called the bank from work to speak with a manager. “Oh yes, well you see Mr. Houtchens, there have been a number of people who have tried to pass counterfeit cashiers checks recently. Yes, one moment, I will clear it up for you. There, your account should reflect your new current balance now.” Checking on the computer, I could see that my new balance reflected the deposit and I was good to go for paying Ron the transmission guy at AAMCO who had bent over backwards to help me get the repairs done at a reasonable cost.

After a week my truck was ready. I swung by the store to check on my balance. Much to my astonishment, my balance had been deducted by $3000, and I now did not have the money to pay Ron for his work. I was in disbelief. I swung by the bank. “Sorry, we are closed,” I was told at the drive through window. I then drove to the one location where Bank of America still has a branch in a supermarket in the vicinity.

After speaking with the manager there, they dug up my files and informed me that the department that is in charge of making deposits had once again placed a hold on the cashiers check, and the code that was coming up marked it as counterfeit. I could hardly contain my astonishment. I had walked out of MAKO with the loan check in my hands. They gave me a customer service number to call. I asked for hard copies of all information they had pertaining to this matter, which they provided.

When I called the customer service number, the woman I spoke with listened attentively, then connected me to a customer service supervisor, a Mr. Lavartine Smith. Mr. Smith was also very personable, but not very helpful. He informed me that the check had been refused, and had been returned to me by way of snail mail. I asked him if they had even bothered to present the check to MAKO, and he could not even tell me that it had. I asked him to inform his superiors of this matter.

Here is the deal. This situation is causing me unprecedented and unnecessary stress. I can tell my blood pressure is up because my ears are burning even as I write this. My doctor has informed me that I have heart related issues, and has sent me to see a cardiologist. People who have had the same account for 17 years should not be given the service that I have received.

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