How Sovereign bank is ruining my pal’s life

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I’m madder than TV’s Jim Cramer wearing a short-sleeved shirt that he can’t roll up over the fact that banks today have gotten too big for their own britches, and they have no idea what it’s like out there for the little guy!

No idea! None!

Look, you all know that the ol’ Screecher is in constant battle with the powers that be, and I’m going to do it again this week, because a good friend told me a story about his dealings with a bank that is going to knock your socks off.

Now, I don’t need to tell you that over the last dozen or so years all the little local banks that we loved so much — the ones that gave us six percent interest on our savings accounts and a little book that let us know how much money we had — have gone the way of the dodo, with some of them getting scooped up by behemoths with main offices in other countries.

And when that happened, guys reminiscent of ol’ George Bailey were replaced with people who don’t care what happens to your money, as long as they get to keep the majority of the green stuff you deposit.

My friend learned that the hard way when he got a phone call one night last month which purported to be from Sovereign Bank, also known as Santander, the Spanish-owned company that bought out our Brooklyn-born Independence Savings Bank a few years back. The robot on the phone told him that his account was over-drafted, which was news to him because he didn’t have one with the bank.

Oh, sure, at one time he did business with Sovereign, but he closed those accounts back in August.

So he waits on the line to explain this to a rep, and the robot asks him for his Social Security number. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t give out my Social to anyone that wasn’t my lovely wife Sharon — especially a robot who I didn’t know from that bag a bolts on “Lost in Space.” So he did the right thing and hung up the phone.

A couple of days later he got a very unofficial-looking postcard from the bank making the same claim. Again, he ignored it because it looked like junk mail and a scam.

Finally, and here’s where it get really interesting, he got a statement from the bank — on his closed account! When he opened it, he found out the bank had charged him $70 because National Grid mistakenly went to the dead account and removed $40 to cover his gas bill.

Look, you all know that I’m no banker. But I can tell you this: If I was, there is no way I would have given National Grid that 40 bucks from an account that doesn’t exist. So why would Sovereign? Well, you’ll have to ask them.

And that’s exactly what my pal did, spending 45 minutes on the phone with two different reps explaining to them that he would happily pay the $40 Sovereign stupidly gave to the gas company, but that wasn’t enough for them. They demanded the additional $70 overdraft fee. All for an account that doesn’t exist.

But not according to Sovereign. The banker told my friend that the second the gas company sought out the money from his nonexistent account, the account suddenly re-existed, and now it is in default.

That decision was made of course by my arch-nemesis, a computer, which apparently is the banking industry’s whipping boy for all the mistakes it makes.

That’s when my pal pointed out to them that the computer didn’t make the mistake, it was programed by a real live human being who thought it was a good idea to take money from people even after they stop doing business with the bank.

And that’s why, as I’ve told you repeatedly, the ol’ Screecher feels a heck of a lot safer with his money stuffed into a mattress under the floorboards in the attic next to a bunch of other mattresses stuffed with things that feel like money but are, in fact, not money.

Hopefully, somebody over there will come to their senses and realize this is all a big waste of time. My pal sure hopes so, and he fears his credit rating is being held hostage.

Screech at you next week!

Read Carmine's screech every Saturday on BrooklynDaily.com. E-mail him at diegovega@aol.com.
Updated 8:14 am, January 19, 2013
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Reader feedback

Claire from Bushwick says:
I had/have a similar situation with Sovereign/Santander. The entire entity should just be in jail.

I had an account there for YEARS, never missed any payments, had any problems, etc. (so they knew I had a clear history of reliabilty and loyalty).... Then a few months ago, I also got a notification cleverly disguised as junk mail that I happened to open--to see my bank account had been stripped of several hundred dollars.

Because according to their overdraft plan that I not only did not sign up for, but made a POINT of formally opting out of years ago...apparently online payments on platforms like Amazon count as hand-written checks. Which means instead of alerting me with even one notification via my online account and associated notifications, they re-ordered the payments so that when processed, the biggest went first-this ensured that ALL the charges would bounce, rather than just the one.

This is apparently a pretty popular semi-legal, immoral move among banks that are taking advantage of their customers nowadays...it's kinda hard to identify banks doing this -and what happened to your friend-without help, so the CFPB is asking people to report these kinds of interactions so they can follow up with the banks for legal retribution at the vey least (if not help for the customers wronged as well).

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website here:

Doesn't seem like I'm going to get my hundreds of dollars in inappropriate fees back (should have just been charged the one fee, which would have been only $35), but spread the website around to your buddy and anyone else relevant, hopefully the bank will at least have to face some form of charges, if enough claims placed.
April 29, 2013, 9:50 pm

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