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All of us, at some point or another, have been raped by a corporation. Fortunately for (some of) us, we live in a country where we don't have to simply bend over and take it. We can fight back.

Corporations exist to make money, and because of this it's easy to see why a company, say Bank of America for instance, would try to rip off their customers by charging ridiculously unfair fees. However, it is possible to use the corporation's greed against them. If you were to cause Bank of America enough financial pain in the form of lawyer fees, government fines and other costs involved in dealing with a determined customer's complaints, they will most likely choose the cheaper route and simply give you whatever it is that you want.

Very recently, I had to employ the above tactics to get $105 back from Bank of America. This is my story.

***

As some of you may know, I recently acquired some property in Newport News, Virginia. After cleaning it up a bit and making it livable, I decided to rent it out. I put up some ads on craigslist and managed to score a tenant reasonably easily. Seeing as I live in Florida, driving up to the Virginia Beach area just to pick up some money and drop off a key to my tenant seemed unnecessary, so I arranged for the tenant to make a deposit to my Bank of America checking account and mailed her the key instead.

I didn't feel very safe giving out my account number to some random woman off the street, so I opened a new checking account and transfered most of my money to this second account. Just so I don't confuse you, we'll call this account "Account B" and my old account (the one my tenant would be depositing her rent payments into) will be "Account A". I opened Account B online on July 13th, 2009 and tried to arrange for my money from Account A to be transfered there as the account was opened. Unfortunately, the online system was not working very smoothly, and I got a "Please Try Again Later" message. Despite the error message, Account B showed up online that same day, though it showed up as empty. Thinking the transfer hadn't gone through (online transfers take seconds to appear), I transfered my money from Account A again. At the end of the day on July 13th, 2009, Account A had $0.00 and Account B had...some money in it.

On July 14th, the tenant deposited $755 to Account A. Satisfied with the rent payment, I transfered all $755 to Account B for safety and put the matter out of my mind. At the end of the day on July 14th, 2009, I had $0.00 in Account A, and $755 plus the amount of the day before in Account B. On July 15th, I hopped online to double check all was well. It was not. Account A was showing up as -$105. As it turns out, the initial transfer of funds from Account A to Account B (when I had first opened Account B) had actually gone through, and I had ended up overdrawing Account A. Three days worth of Overdraft fees put me $105 in debt, all because of the bank's own messed up Online Banking system.

Normally, banks and most other companies are pretty good about refunding retarded fees like this. Hoping Bank of America would be cool about this whole situation, I gave them a ring. After I explained what happened, the customer service rep told me:

"I'm so sorry, but unfortunately, because you authorized all the transactions, I can't refund you the overdraft fees."
"Uhh...these fees only exist because I was acting on bad information provided by YOUR system."
"Yeah, I understand that, but...errr...the system tries to be as accurate as possible...since, you, er, authorized all the transactions..."
"Are you going to give me my hundred bucks back, or no?"
"I'm sorry sir, but since you authorized all those transactions, I cannot refund those fees."
"Wow. Okay. I guess I'll have to take you to Small Claims Court then."
"Okay, sir, if that's what you feel you need to do, go right ahead."


Normally, the best way to get what you want out of a corporation like this is to: 1) Ask Nicely, and when that doesn't work, 2) Threaten to both sue and file complaints with the BBB, and if that doesn't work either, then finally, 3) Actually file suit or complaints with the BBB. At this point, I was at step 2, and they were calling my bluff. Filing a Small Claims suit costs $75, and seeing as the entire issue here was only $105, I figured it probably wasn't worth the effort. I tried to intimidate them all the same.

"Okay. Can you give me the name, telephone number and address of your listing agent, please?" (A listing agent is the person you want to serve notice to when suing a company.)
"Umm...I don't have to give you that information, sir"
"Okay. Thought I would ask anyways. Thanks."
"Thank you sir, is there anything else I can help-"

At this point, I was infuriated. Didn't we, the taxpayers, just bail this bank out of the financial shithole it had gotten itself into? How are they going to try me like this after I just saved their asses from bankruptcy?

Still quite determined, I continued my efforts. Sometimes, you simply have to threaten the right person. So I called the Bank of America corporate headquarters in Delaware and told them I was calling to serve notice of a civil suit. Once again, they brushed me off, rather impolitely this time. I decided to file a complaint with the BBB. It only took me a few minutes to fill out the complaint form on the BBB's website. After giving a few personal details and a brief description of the complaint, I was all set. In the "Desired Outcome" box I put "Refund of $105". I received a few emails later that week notifying me that my complaint had been forwarded to the right address, and Bank of America had until August 2nd to respond to my complaint. Not really expecting this to accomplish anything, I put the matter out of my mind and said goodbye to my $105.

While I waited for a response, I decided to take my banking business elsewhere. I've been a relatively loyal customer to Bank of America for the past few years, and was even thinking about taking out some credit through them. Not anymore. When I first opened my account, "overdraft fees" were something almost unheard of. You had to hold a negative balance past a certain dollar amount for a certain amount of days before you incurred any fees at all. This is no longer the case. Since February, Bank of America has changed its overdraft policy. Now any overdraft of any kind will result in a $35 fee for every day you hold a negative balance, even if it's because of some trivial transfer errors. Am I the only one that thinks this is wrong? It's not like I actually did the bank any actual financial damage that they have to charge me for, the money was always there. There was simply an error in THEIR OWN online system. Why should I pay for that? If BoA is suddenly finding it needs to nickel-and-dime its customers to make ends meet, I think it's time I switched banks.

Two days ago, I checked my bank accounts online again. To my pleasant surprise, I found a credit of $105 to Account B, titled as "OVERDRAFT FEE REFUND". We now have corporate sponsorship.




Just to be clear here, I don't mean any disrespect to people who work for banks. All I'm saying is you need to stay on top of your own finances, and not let a Bank bully you into submission. Though I did receive a refund, I'm still very displeased with Bank of America. I shouldn't have to resort to complaining to the Federal government just to get my own money back; Bank of America should have refunded my money the first time I called. I can understand that screw-ups happen, but they shouldn't expect me to just sit down and take it.

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