Bank Of America Demands 'Papers Please' For Customers' Money
Looks like Bank of America is trying to get some kind of favor from the Trump administration. That's the only reason we can think of to explain yesterday's Miami Herald story about reports from LOTS of unhappy BofA customers that their accounts have been frozen after they didn't satisfy the bank they were citizens or legal immigrants. BofA insists it hasn't changed its policies and that it's simply following the best practices necessary to comply with banking security laws, but the whole thing reeks -- and is just one more reminder why anyone with a lick of sense should move their money to a credit union, thank you very much.
The reports feel like perfect little portraits of where Trump's America is headed: Saeed Moshfegh, a PhD physics grad student from Iran -- he's been here for seven years, and is married to an American -- was locked out of his account because BofA decided the immigration form for students he showed them wasn't adequate proof that he's here legally. It was, of course -- he says the bank "doesn't know how the immigration system works, so they didn't accept my document." Eventually, Mosfegh was at least allowed to withdraw his money and take it elsewhere -- BofA wouldn't let him keep the account open.
Hey, consider yourself lucky, guy. At least Trump didn't complain on Twitter that you'd finally gotten your own money back. Maybe Obama gave you that money, huh?
The banks's fuckery first came to national attention earlier this summer after a Kansas couple, Josh Collins and Jessica Salazar Collins, ignored a mailer Josh had received demanding he immediately provide proof of citizenship. They decided it was so stupid and hinky-looking it had to be a scam, and in 20 years of banking with BofA, neither had ever been asked to document their citizenship. A few weeks later, the bank froze both their accounts, and a cheerful customer service agent asked why Josh hadn't sent back that form.
After they went to the media in Kansas City, the couple started hearing from others in the area who'd had the same thing happen to them, and the Washington Post brought the story to national attention in July.
Here's the crazy thing: BofA insists this is all perfectly routine and heavens no, it hasn't implemented any new policies, heavens no, where would you get such a silly idea? All they're doing is complying with the Patriot Act and making sure nobody's sending any funny money overseas to terrorists or other bad people:
In response to an inquiries from the Miami Herald, Bank of America spokesperson Carla Molina said she could not comment on specific cases. But she said there had been no change in how Bank of America collects information from customers, including citizenship, in at least a decade. The bank attempts to contact customers before they change the status of their bank accounts, she said.
"There's nothing new," Molina said.
That there is some bullshit, according to Paulina Gonzalez, the California Reinvestment Coalition's executive director, who told the Herald in an email,
We work with consumer groups and financial counselors in immigrant communities across [California] and the country [...] This is new. We have Bank of America customers who we've spoken to who have never been asked this before last year. If they have this asked of them before they can show us proof.
Gonzalez said it was just one more example of the fear immigrant communities live with in our beautiful new hell-world: "It's like walking into a grocery store to buy milk and being asked for your citizenship at checkout [...] To be faced with this question in order to do banking seems as un-American as you can get."
For that matter, Molina, the BofA spokesperson, seems to agree, kinda-sorta, except obviously it's all just in the foreigns' (and US citizens') heads, although she put it a bit more corporate-speaky, telling the Herald the customer complaints may reflect "heightened sensitivities" at a time when immigration has become a major issue.
Which doesn't quite explain why there aren't scads of complaints about other big banks pulling this shit, and -- if you believe a government spokesperson, there aren't any new regulations out there making BofA do it, either.
Proof of citizenship is not required to open a bank account in the U.S., according to Stephanie Collins, a spokesperson for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that supervises branch banking. Banks are merely required to identify and report suspicious transactions and maintain and update customer information, she said. Banks have not received any new instructions to collect more information about customers.
It's probably all perfectly fine, and merely another example of a big bank doing its very best to prove to ordinary customers that they're mere revenue producers, and the bank can do what it wants.
Credit unions, people.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.