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!
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 that the computer didn’t make the mistake. In fact it was programed by a real, live human being who thought it was a good idea to take money from people 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, because both he and I think his credit rating is being held hostage!
Screech at you next week!