Bank of America is scary and powerful

On Friday I received a message from a nice-sounding man who identified himself as being with Bank of America’s fraud department and requested I give him a call back. I didn’t get around to it on Friday, not realizing the urgency of his innocuous request. On Saturday I discovered that both of my Bank of America credit cards were blocked and my account had a hold on it for $888,888.88.

In an intellectual, logical, rational way, this made sense. If there was some suspicion of fraud, I shouldn’t be surprised to find out that things had been blocked. It was good business for BofA and it was good for me in that they were protecting my money. But in a real-world, emotional, practical way, it was awful. It was awful because the only communication I had received was via a voicemail, with no follow-up at my work number, my email address, or via text message, even though they have access to all of those contact methods. It was awful because it meant that immediately and without warning I had no access to money, and I didn’t know why.

The first indication was when I tried to buy gas. My BofA American Express card was rejected. I pulled around and tried another pump. Card rejected again. I tried my BofA Visa card. Rejected. I tried another gas station. Same story. I checked my online balance. Very big negative number in red. Their automated phone service told me I was overdrawn. I hadn’t gone to an ATM recently, so I only had $4 in my wallet. This was Saturday morning. The Bank of America Fraud Department would not open again until Monday.

One group that was available was the credit card support line. But when I called them, they said they had to cancel my cards and shut down my online banking. That would mean no access to my checking, savings, credit cards, or investment accounts until such time as this was cleared up and I could re-open them all. It would also mean all my automatic bill payments, including my mortgage, would cease to function. Terrifying.

In the end, as expected, the whole thing was cleared up on Monday morning with a 3 minute call to the fraud department. The actual inconvenience was two days without access to money. But the emotional distress was high, and completely needless. The Fraud department should be open 24/7, or normal CSRs should have more information to deal with fraud problems. The fraud message should have been far more clear and explicit, coming in multiple mediums as well as with a clear explanatory banner in my online banking view. In short, Bank of America, realizing how important and central they are to my life, should have treated me with a lot more respect.

The lesson I’ve learned is that it is dangerous to rely on one financial institution for your well-being. So I’ve opened an ETrade account and am moving my investments there. I’ve pulled my old CitiBank credit card out of the drawer and started using it. And I’m contemplating where to move my checking and savings accounts, so that I can shut down everything I have that is associated with Bank of America.

I’ve been a long-time happy BofA customer. This entire situation was avoidable. I expected better. Let this be a warning to others.