Your Word against the Bank

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on February 8, 2017 in Money Saving Strategies, Personal Finances

Tom Kerr writing on free thinking

I’m not a conspiracy theorist and I don’t keep my life savings stuffed inside my mattress…like some folks I’ve known over the years.

But maybe they’re right and I’m clueless.

However, I do maintain what I consider to be a rational and healthy skepticism when it comes to financial institutions…despite the fact that I have had savings accounts since I was in grade school, and I genuinely like the friendly tellers at my little local bank branch.

Maybe it was that incident at the drive-through, back in the 1980s, that inspired my cautious skepticism.

I was on the way to the airport in Miami and I stopped at my bank to deposit $250. It was a huge bank, and there were about eight lanes for drive-through teller service. You know the kind I mean, where you talk into a squawk box and then drop your deposit into a tube and hit the send button…so it whooshes through a pipe and lands way over there inside the building.

The bank was so big and I was so far away from the line of tellers that I could barely see them. They opened tubes, refilled them, and sent them back to customers like me on the other side of that thick wall of bulletproof glass. I waited my turn and then the teller thanked me and sent my tube back…but when I retrieved it the deposit slip said that I had only deposited $25.

“Excuse me!” I pleaded. “I sent over $250 but this says I only gave you $25. I think you put the decimal in the wrong place.”

“No, I don’t think so, Sir. You deposited $25. Maybe you’d like to make an additional deposit today?”

Needless to say, I pressed my case until the drive-through teller was huddled with two managers.

“Sir, I am going to have to audit my cash drawer and balance it out. That’s the only way to accurately resolve the situation. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

“But I have a plane to catch…”

I waited…and felt ridiculously helpless. I had heard naïve children and really old people say that it wasn’t smart to put your money into one of those tubes because

“What if it got stuck or they just kept it?”

I’d laugh and assure them they were just being paranoid. Now I was the one feeling taken…and it was no laughing matter.

I had no receipt or other form of evidence to prove my side of the story. It was just my word against theirs…and they were a powerful bank.

Almost an hour later they sorted it out and confirmed that they had, indeed, made an uncommon error. They credited me with the extra $225, thanked me for my patience, and I made it to the airport just before my flight departed.

Problem solved…or at least averted.

What made me remember that long-ago incident – which I sometimes joke about now when I retell it to friends – was an article I just read in Fortune Magazine.

You may recall how last year Wells Fargo paid $185 million to settle multiple charges against it, when regulators accused it of opening about two million fake accounts in customers’ names – without their permission or knowledge – just so it could charge them fees and penalties. In the wake of that scandal the U. S. Labor Department set up a dedicated website where employees or former employees of Wells Fargo could report abuses and other shenanigans.

Now Fortune Magazine has just reported on fresh new allegations against Wells Fargo that have emerged.

There is evidence, for instance, that indicates that some employees who called the company’s ethics hotline to let the bank know of wrongdoings they observed may have been abruptly terminated as a form of punishment.

If so, that violates federal law. Were bank managers forewarned whenever internal bank auditors were coming, as reports claim, and did employees have to stay at work until the wee hours of the night shredding documents and forging signatures? How deep does the scandal actually go, and is what we know just the tip of the iceberg?

You and I may never know.

What we do know is that during January 2017, the Labor Department’s Wells Fargo whistleblower website mysteriously went offline and vanished…just like the $225 I deposited into the drive-through tube.

At least I got that back…but as of early February (despite urgent appeals to Congress to look into the bizarre and highly suspicious disappearance) there still had not yet been any explanation regarding why the whistleblower site went missing…or who was responsible and what became of all that evidence submitted by whistleblowers.

That leaves lots of juicy questions unanswered.

Like I said, I’m not a conspiracy theorist and I still have my bank account…but the skeptic in me is carefully reconsidering all of that, even as we speak.

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