Advice Goddess Blog The Official Amy Alkon
amy alkon, syndicated advice columnist, journalist, author and blogger

B of A, Page Two:

July 11, 2008:

Bank Of America: Share The Hate
Commenter Ben L. from Minnesota is one of a number of people who've commented or e-mailed that they'd like to give Bank of America a piece of their mind about the way they've treated me -- firing me as a customer when I have a book due August 1; apparently for complaining a little too vigorously in the wake of their handing thieves a total of $12,000 of my money on seven separate occasions.

Meanwhile, their spokeslady, Betty Riess, brags to the press that they have "mutiple layers of security." In my experience, to give the Dixon City, California branch as an example, that meant their teller gave $1,500 of my money to a woman with missing teeth and a fake driver's license in my name with the wrong expiration date.

I've been waking up in the middle of the night worried since this happened. I woke up Friday morning at around 2:30 a.m., and finally got out of bed at around 3:30 a.m. after tossing and turning for an hour, and wrote the awful Nereida Claudius, VP, Executive Customer Relations, who is now the only person at Bank of America who will talk to me. All calls are routed to her. No one else will help me.

So, last week, for example, when I, e-mailed fraud investigator Robert Melofsky in Dallas to ask if my PIN had been used by the thief...something that's been giving me sleepless nights since then, he didn't write back, and didn't write back when I wrote him again on Monday, and finally wrote back to say Nereida Claudius was the only one who could deal with me.

I write Nereida Claudius, and hear nothing, and hear nothing, and, after finding the e-mail address of Kenneth D. Lewis, head of Bank of America, I even e-mail him. Nothing. Finally, Claudius e-mails me back claiming that she's been on jury duty!

Here, there's one person who will deal with me, and only one, in all of Bank of America, and I have to wait a week, and be up nights worried about whether these thieves have my PIN because she's allegedly out on jury duty. Disgusting. Reprehensible.

I think a number of you who comment here feel as I do -- that they've behaved unconscionably. To that end, Ben L. has written a letter, which maybe others of you would like to send as well. Kenneth D. Lewis' e-mail address, along with those of others high up in BofA, is below. A few in the know suggest e-mail is better than snail mail, in terms of having him read it.

Kenneth D. Lewis
Bank of America
100 North Tryon Street
Charlotte, NC 28255

Dear Mr. Lewis,

I am writing you today because I wanted to let you know that I am not currently a Bank of America customer, but more importantly, that I will go out of my way to make sure I am NEVER a Bank of America customer.

You see, it seems that on seven (7) different occasions, Bank of America tellers gave out $12,000 of Ms. Amy Alkon's money to an identity thief. I invite you to read all about Ms. Alkon's ordeal with your bank here:

As if the complete and utter failure of your bank's security measures were not bad enough to deter me as a customer, the way you have thus far handled Ms. Alkon's case really did you in. It is as if your bank is trying to work against her in cleaning up this mess, and it is completely unacceptable.

I hope you realize that Bank of America's actions in this matter will be costing you plenty in the form of lost business. I urge you to reconsider the way you handle security failures, and work WITH the victims of those failures, not against them.


A former potential customer

Via Consumerist, one of my absolute favorite sites:

Here are 18 working Bank of America executive/employee email addresses. A Consumerist reader launched a EECB (executive email carpet bomb) that got his overdraft fees refunded; these were the ones that didn't bounce back, plus some more we found recently.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

My e-mail to Ken Lewis from July 8, 2008 (I've left out the e-mail to Claudius for space reasons):

Mr. Lewis, This (scroll down below) is an e-mail I sent this morning to Nereida Claudius of your bank.

After banking with you for almost 20 years, and following through on all my obligations to you, you're firing me as a customer. Perhaps you know this -- since I faxed you a blog item I posted about how your bank failed, and most spectacularly, in its fiduciary duty to me.

Here's the link to a series of the blog items I've posted about what I've been going through with your bank. If you'd like to see the comments from me and my readers, click on the date links above each post for the original entry.

I was raised to admit my mistakes and correct them. I would've thought your bank would have taken my complaint seriously, and used it to make your customers' accounts safer. Instead, your employees have stonewalled me and treated me like I have done something wrong by asking them to help me protect myself from further damage, not to mention installing protections to keep other customers from going through what I have.

On July 2, 2008, I received a letter from Claudius telling me you were booting me as a customer at the end of July -- this, when Claudius knows I have a book due on August 1, and have already lost a great deal of time thanks to your bank's negligence. This sure seems to me like a revenge move on your bank's part -- pretty sick considering all I've been through thanks to your tellers' repeated failure (on seven occasions) to do the most minimum due diligence in allowing access to my money and account. Furthermore, from my investigation into where the data breach might have occurred, it seems quite possible that it happened within your bank and/or the branch I bank at.

You may reach me at 310-XXX-XXXX (in Los Angeles, on Pacific Time). I hope this isn't the way you think it's appropriate to do business. I await your call. -Amy Alkon

No call. Not surprised. And again, had they done the minimum due diligence to verify whether the thief was me the very first time, she might be in jail now and the fake license might be in a police evidence locker somewhere.

They treat me as if I'm the criminal here, not the victim of their extreme negligence, and it just shocks me to my core.

Sent to Ken Lewis July 9:

Subject: Amy Alkon - still need to know if thief has my PIN number

I can't get a return call from Nereida Claudius, and nobody else at your bank will talk to me and give me the information I need -- they just say she's dealing with anything that has to do with me...but she won't return my calls or e-mails.

After almost 20 years banking with your bank, I'm being treated like a criminal -- when the requests I'm making are an attempt to clean up after your extraordinary and repeated failures in following through in your fiduciary duty to me.

I demand to know whether the thieves had my PIN number by the end of the business day today, Wednesday, July 9, and furthermore, to be made aware of any other information the thieves have about me and my financial and personal history that might be putting me in further jeopardy. -Amy Alkon

Lo and behold, demanding something from these creeps worked. Although, I've got to laugh (and bitterly) at how they "consider this matter closed." How lovely for them! For me, the time-suck and upset continues. Tomorrow, after spending time I should be spending writing my book, which is due August 1, on researching what bank I will go to in the wake of their firing me as a customer as of the end of July, I will go open a new account. Yes, in time I need to spend writing, I will leave and go sit in a chair at a bank and deal with paperwork that I would certainly have dealt with when it was convenient for me, not for Bank of America to unceremoniously dump me as a customer.

Oh, and did I mention that my IRA for tax year 2007, which I put in the bank on April 2, thinking that it would be nice if I wasn't part of the rush at the end of the tax year, they screwed up, too? From the time from April 2 to tax day, the somehow couldn't manage to get that money in my account. Instead of fixing that, they sent me a letter saying my money didn't get in in time, and would be in there for tax year 2008. More time-suck on my part, and it's been corrected.

Here's Claudius' letter back in response to my demand to Lewis, it seems:

July 9, 2008 Dear Ms. Alkon, Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to your most recent inquiries. I was on jury duty service and unfortunately unable to access my e-mail or telephone in order to place an out of office message. Ms. Alkon, on June 30, 2008 I forwarded you correspondence addressing your inquiries to date, and informing you of our determination to terminate our relationship. My letter stated that Bank of America considered this matter closed, a position which has not changed. However, in consideration of your additional concerns it is my pleasure to provide you with the following information:
* I have obtained confirmation that your personal identification number (PIN) was not utilized when the fraudulent transactions were processed against your account.

* The fax number that you may utilize to forward the correspondence from Kaiser is 206.585.9773.

In accordance with the assurances contained in my letter of June 30, once I receive a copy of the notification from Kaiser I will address the electronic payment request that was returned unpaid and refund any associated fees.

As stated previously, we consider this matter closed, aside from providing the letter to Kaiser. I will do this as soon as I receive the information from you. To the extent you may have additional questions, we request that any further communications be directed to me in writing. I am the person who has been assigned this matter and other associates will not be able to respond to you with any substantive information.


Nereida Claudius
VP; Operations Team Lead
Executive Customer Relations
Office of the Chairman

Friday morning's e-mail to Nereida, sent at 3:35 a.m., after I'd been awake for an hour, worrying:

In case you think it's hyperbole that I can't sleep nights, thanks to the way your bank failed in your fiduciary duty to me, and allowed, for example, a woman with missing teeth and a fake driver's license with the wrong expiration date!! to withdraw $1,500 from my account from the Dixon City branch...along with all the other disgusting violations...check out the time-stamp of this e-mail, which should be shortly after 3:30 a.m.

I've been up since 2:30 a.m., when I sat up, wondering, among other things, whether I should ask you for an Orange County address to send my certified letter to you, demanding documentation, per the Fair Credit law, rather than this ridiculous Tampa address you send your FedExes from. long as I'm up -- and, thank your bank's "security" procedures for that -- please do give me an Orange County address to send my certified letter to you at, since it's rather silly that it travel from me in Los Angeles to you in Orange County via Tampa, and take all that extra time.

-Amy Alkon, victim of Bank of America's laxness in it's fiduciary duty to me, after nearly 20 years of having every dime of my money in your bank

A friend with a news background who's a producer of a national show is going to call me this weekend to suggest who at the networks I should pitch this story to, and how. If you know of others who've been treated similarly by Bank of America, please send them my way.

Oh, and an interesting little detail that may explain how they just let thieves walk out, time and time again, with my money.

The associate manager in Dixon, when I asked her whether they checked my signature or other information on their computers, made a remark about how they couldn't access them. I thought that was odd...perhaps some one-time glitch. I mean, this is a major bank that's been swallowing up banks across the country for quite some time.

Well, Gregg was in Detroit the other day, and went to the BofA there, formerly LaSalle Bank (announced to become BofA in April 2007) to do some banking. He said they told him they aren't on Bank of America's computers and won't be until October.

My question: If I go into that branch in Detroit and want to access my money, from my account in California, do they tell me I can't have they call the bank and ask to have my signature and other information faxed to them...or do they just cross their fingers, hope it's me, and hand over the cash?

July 18, 2008:

Here's What Bank Of America Has Set Me Up For
In short, a need for bail money. My own. (More on that below.)

What am I guilty of? Well, only being dim enough to believe, in light of the bazillions of advertising and PR dollars Bank of America spends bragging about how secure their customers' money is, that they would require more than a single piece of fake ID and my account number before letting their tellers dispense thousands of my dollars to thieves.

Citing "privacy" -- meaning that they're protecting the thieves' privacy!...and knowing that the police rarely pursue cases like mine, and/or have very limited time and resources -- Bank of America has refused, over and over again, on the phone and in writing, to give me tape of the perps to whom their tellers gave $12,000 of my money on seven separate occasions.

(And yes, they're refusing despite my past track record in tracking down two criminals: my car thief and my hit-and-run driver, both of whom were subsequently prosecuted. And, this, despite the fact that I'm probably a wee bit more motivated than their investigators and the police to find the thieves.)

Shockingly, each of these seven times the thieves asked tellers for my money, no PIN was required. No bank card. Just a fake driver's license in my name with the wrong expiration date. SEVEN times. In places I never have been and probably never will go, and utterly, totally off-pattern for me in terms of both teller window withdrawals and the large individual sums (I take out $200 out of the ATM every now and then to use for the few cash purchases I make, like breakfast or lunch at a cafe, or lunch for my editorial assistant and me).

Had Bank of America done the most minimum due diligence to verify identification, the perps would likely be in custody now and the fake driver's licenses in my name would likely be in a police evidence locker. And I'd likely know where the information on those ID's came from.

Meanwhile, I've demanded to get the information about every person at the bank who electronically accessed my account because I want to know if that was the source of the data leak. You'd think Bank of America, with all they've let happen to me, would be bending over like limbo dancers to get me what I ask for -- the electronic account data, and the copies of my signature I've asked for as well, so I could see whether the thieves managed to forge some facsimile of mine. So far, no dice. Can you believe this?!

Oh, and did I mention that the perps went on to Target and K-Mart and Wal-Mart and Target again to apply for instant credit in my name, and tried to reopen my closed Macy's account? That's been a major time-suck, and will continue to be, despite my security freeze on my credit bureau accounts. (P.S. I recommend a credit bureau freeze for everyone.)

My life has been just hellish since this happened. I'm a slave to Bank of America's negligence, and pretty much every day, I spend hours trying to clean up after this. My book will be at least a month late because of the hell I've been put through, and am continuing to be put through.

What's next, I wonder? And then I hear stories like this. A woman I know told me of this other woman in New York who was pulled over and arrested -- not for a crime she'd committed, but for a murder committed by the woman who stole her identity. I found a story just like it on MSNBC, "The Dark Side Of Identity Theft," by Bob Sullivan:

March 9, 2003 - Malcolm Byrd was home with his two children on a Saturday night when a knock came at the door. Three Rock County, Wis., sheriff's officers were there with a warrant for Byrd's arrest. Cocaine possession, with intent to distribute, it said. Byrd tried to tell them that they had the wrong man, that it was a case of mistaken identity, that he was a victim of identity theft. But they wouldn't listen. Instead they put him in handcuffs and drove him away. Again.

It was nothing new for Byrd, who has spent much of the past five years trying -- unsuccessfully -- to talk skeptical police officers out of arresting him. But this time, it was worse. Two days later, he was still in jail.

This is the worst-case scenario for identity theft victims. Losing your clean credit history is one thing; losing your freedom is another. And victims of America's fastest-growing crime are discovering they often have much more to worry about than the hundreds of hours of paperwork necessary to clean up the financial mess associated with ID theft. Sometimes, they have to worry about ending up in jail -- again and again.

"This is the ultimate humiliation, the ultimate nightmare if you ask me," said Jim Doyle, president of Internet Crimes Inc., and co-founder of the New York City Police Department's Computer Investigation and Technology Unit. "And it falls on the victim to clear up the criminal record."

Again, this is where Bank of America has wronged me, and wronged so many other customers -- first, in failing so spectacularly in their fiduciary duty to protect their customers' money, and second, doing so in the wake of their extensive efforts to assure their customers and potential customers that their money is safe with them.

And still, in addition to potentially being arrested, I wake up in the middle of the night worried about other ways I'm being victimized -- despite having frozen my credit in 2005. For example, there's this from this piece on myths about credit freezes:

13. Credit freezes prevent identity theft.
They should block identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name and taking out loans, but if the lender, service provider, landlord or insurance company doesn't look at your credit report, then credit could get issued in your name, utility accounts could be opened, apartments could be issued and insurance policies could be obtained in your name.

I am screwed in so many ways; again, because Bank of America was so stunningly and so repeatedly negligent in verifying identification.

Meanwhile, while I meant to research other banks and get out of BofA as soon as I turned in my book to the publisher, BofA is firing me as a customer as of the end of July; apparently, for complaining a little too vociferously about their negligence, and their stonewalling me and preventing me from protecting myself in the wake of their negligence. More time-suck! Thanks, BofA!

Perhaps they're behaving this way because they know a little something -- something I read in a chapter on Bank of America in the book Zero Day Threat: The Shocking Truth of How Banks and Credit Bureaus Help Cyber Crooks Steal Your Money and Identity, by Byron Acohido and John Schwartz of USA Today:

Corporate defense lawyers get paid handsomely by the hour to delay, distract, and ultimately destroy individual plaintiffs. They maintain an unwavering focus on the endgame: making an example of the upstart plaintiff to discourage other individuals from filing similar lawsuits.

Identity theft lawyers do not typically take these cases on contingency. The lawyer I'd want to use, Mari Frank, charges $500 an hour, and you'd better hope she gets them to settle. I actually spoke to her on the phone for almost an hour (although she didn't charge me; I think she just felt really sorry for me). She's fantastic, but I'm a middle-class newspaper columnist and author, and $500 an hour is just not in the budget.

Feel free to write Bank of America president Kenneth D. Lewis to tell him what you think of the way they do business:

For other victims of identity theft, Mari Frank has also written a terrific book -- complete with all the letters you need to send, for example, to stores and credit bureaus and scumbags at banks who seem more interested in protecting the bank than being accountable for failing, most spectacularly, to protect their customers.

Here's a link to her book: From Victim To Victor: A Step By Step Guide For Ending the Nightmare of Identity Theft, Second Edition with CD.

July 21, 2008:

Will Bank Of America's Tellers Give Your Money To Just Anyone?
It seems, as in my experience, the answer to that is "Well, pretty much, yes."

In the wake of Bank of America's tellers, on SEVEN occasions, giving $12,000 total of my money to thieves armed with a fake driver's license in my name with the wrong expiration date, with no PIN number, no bank card, and no matching of my signature, a commenter here writes on this entry:

I've been sharing this story with my friend Jenn who banks with BofA, much like vlad she blamed the victim (Amy) and claimed her money was safe. We decided to test the system. Jenn* gave me her account number and her drivers license. We look nothing alike. I've got about five inches and forty pound on Jenn; my hair is brown while she's a blond bomb shell with a nose out of this world. Like Amy, Jenn only makes infrequent ATM withdrawals for minimal amounts ($100 - $200). Wednesday I was in another town for business and walked into a local BofA to see if I could withdraw money from Jenn's account, I told them "my" account number asked for $500 and handed them her license. A few taps latter I was told the available balance was $398 because it looked like my mortgage with country wide had just gone through and would I like to take the $398? I took $300 signed and walked out. Needless to say, Jenn is closing her account as I type and moving to a local credit union. Here's the best part, as I'm standing waiting for the money my phone rings, I answer "This is Carrie*" the bitch on the other side didn't even blink. Granted I had a valid drivers license and account number but neither of those things belonged to me and I DON'T MATCH THE PICTURE AT ALL!!!! I was in a town the account owners wouldn't go to and I broke the ATM pattern as well as the typical amount. Further, I now know that they had mortgage, who they have it with and when the payments (and amount) is due.

Amy's case obviously isn't an isolated case and as frequent readers of this blog (I've seen both Vald and Snake comment before) you should know that Amy's not going to bend over and ask for more. Would you prefer she kept this information to herself? I personally am glad she's a bulldog and isn't going to let them get away with this shit. And no Amy, you're not boring me with this; I want to know what's happening! I find it disgusting that you would defend the bank and bait Amy (when she has better things to be doing) when, as Amy said, the bank is guilt of "flagrant negligence".

*names changed :)