Business

You can't bank on escaping debit card fee at BofA

Technology IndustryHuman InterestBankingBank of America Corp.Make-A-Wish Foundation of America

It's always impressive when businesses go out of their way to mess with customers.

I wrote recently about Bank of America deducting monthly fees from a dead man's checking account. I don't mean to keep picking on BofA. Other banks merit generous dollops of public ridicule for their own customer-unfriendly practices.

But the following tale of woe involving a longtime BofA customer and a $16 checking-account fee is so rich with corporate arrogance that it begs to serve as a place holder until some other bank can outdo it. (Your submissions are welcome.)

Bob Bobbe, 76, has been a BofA customer for more than 30 years. The Palmdale resident has both a personal and a business checking account.

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Bobbe recently spotted a $16 "monthly maintenance fee" on the statement for his business account, which he uses for his freelance accounting work.

He wasted no time in going to BofA's website and entering into an online chat with a service rep bearing the name of Marcus Adonis, or so he was identified in the bank's transcript of the chat.

Bobbe related his situation to Adonis, noting that his debit card isn't supposed to incur a monthly fee as long as he uses it at least once a month.

"I see that you are correct," Adonis responded. "You can avoid the Monthly Maintenance Fee if you make one qualifying transaction each month."

Bobbe pointed out to Adonis that he'd run up a tab for $48.34 on June 28 at a local sushi restaurant.

Adonis didn't dispute the charge. But he countered that the transaction didn't "post" to Bobbe's checking account until July 1. Thus, it didn't count as a June transaction.

"It was run through the merchant register for approval on June 28!" Bobbe wrote.

"Yes, I agree with you," Adonis replied. "However, merchant submit the document for payment on 07/01/2013."

Let's pause and savor that, shall we?

The rules state that to avoid a fee, Bobbe has to use his debit card at least once a month. He did. BofA's records show that he did.

Yet despite this age of lightning-fast digital technology, in which you'd think all credit and debit card transactions would be processed instantaneously, there was a three-day lag between the time Bobbe paid for his meal and when it arrived in BofA's computer system.

At this point, there's only one thing a bank should do for a long-standing customer facing a fee that he was in no way responsible for. And that would be to waive the fee.

"How do I appeal/protest that $16 fee?" Bobbe wrote. "I followed your rules and used the ATM card in June."

Adonis said he'd check. Bobbe told me he disappeared from the chat for about five minutes.

When he returned, Adonis said the fee had been charged correctly.

"I apologize," he wrote, "I was unable to get a refund on your account."

Bobbe told me he wasn't that interested in recovering the $16. "I just wanted to offer this as an example of pretty poor customer relations," he said.

I contacted Don Vecchiarello, a BofA spokesman, who acknowledged that the bank's rules were misleading.

As a result of Bobbe's experience, he said, BofA will clarify its rules for hundreds of thousands of business checking-account customers to reflect that a transaction must clear within any given month to avoid the maintenance fee.

Bobbe subsequently received a call from the bank. He was told his $16 would be refunded.

"Common sense has prevailed," Vecchiarello said.

By Jove, he's right.

Questionable wishes

Steven Melnick received a call recently from Kids Wish Network, a Florida charity that says it's "dedicated to infusing hope, creating happy memories and improving the quality of life for children who are experiencing life-altering situations."

Like the better-known Make-A-Wish Foundation, Kids Wish Network aims to make things a little easier for children dealing with serious medical problems. It arranges "trips to theme parks, meeting celebrities, travel, shopping sprees, computers or commodities," according to the organization's website.

But to Melnick, 44, Kids Wish Network didn't pass the smell test.

The woman who called his home asked for a donation of $35, $50 or $75. Melnick responded that he wasn't familiar with Kids Wish Network. Could they send him some information?

The woman said she'd be happy to — right after he made a donation. Melnick asked again for some more info. The caller promptly hung up.

"It sure seemed like a scam," Melnick told me.

I can't say Kids Wish Network is a scam. But I can say that the organization was named America's Worst Charity in a recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, CNN and the Tampa Bay Times.

According to the report, Kids Wish Network spends less than 3 cents of every dollar raised on charitable activities. The rest goes to its employees and professional fundraisers. In the last decade, the report says, Kids Wish Network has channeled nearly $110 million to for-profit solicitors.

A spokeswoman for Kids Wish Network pointed me toward a statement on the organization's website. It defends the group's fundraising practices but doesn't dispute the findings of the report.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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