11 June 2009

Fiasco at Bank of America

I never thought I'd say this, but fraud protection is not necessarily a good thing. In the past I would have solemnly sworn that people scoffing at the need for fraud protection were naïve at best. This ended last week when I ran head first into the idiotic brick wall of Bank of America ATM Fraud Protection.

I've posted before that I recently relocated from the state of Manly Deeds, Womanly Words (it's okay, you can laugh, I did) to The Land of Tim Hortons in the Great White North. Prior to moving I -- conscientiously I thought -- went to my Bank of America branch and notified them of my change in address. For half a year all seemed fine until I actually tried to withdraw my money from an ATM in the Great White North using my BoA check card.

On Day1, I first learned there's a limit to the amount of money per transaction that can be withdrawn from an ATM. I admit it took me a few tries to figure out exactly what the limit was. Nevertheless, no problem, right? I was still well below my daily withdrawal limit. I just needed to make multiple withdrawals. Actually... no. Ugh. I phoned Bank of America and was put on hold for at least ten minutes. I say at least because at that point I hung up. Hey, no way was I spending more than $2.50 to listen to elevator music. Later in the day I called Bank of America, again, and finally managed to speak to an associate (the human kind). The associate considerately explained BoA's ATM Fraud Protection and considerately cleared my BoA card for use. After all this I was still thinking of ATM fraud protection in a positive light.

On Day 2, I went to the ATM again (as I still hadn't withdrawn all the money I wanted in Day 1) and to my disgust my card was again rejected at the second attempted transaction. Eh? This time the call cost me $3.75 and the BoA associate considerately explained BoA's ATM Fraud Protection. This time I confirmed with the associate that yes, BoA records do say I am residing in The Land of Tim Hortons. I even informed them of the number of transactions, given the ATM withdrawal limit, I would be making this day and the following. And yes, I also confirmed that the total of my daily withdrawals were still within my pre-established daily ATM withdrawal limit. The associate considerately cleared my card for use.

On Day 3, my BoA card was rejected at the first transaction attempt. This time I spent $5.00 and 15 minutes on hold to call BoA, whereupon the associate considerately explained BoA Fraud Protection. The associate, also considerately, informed me that due to BoA's considerate ATM Fraud Protection I now had to travel IN PERSON to a BoA branch and show two accepted forms of identification. Until I did so not only was my card not cleared but I wouldn't even be able to use BoA online banking. Eh!? Can I do this over the phone, like the previous two days? No. Can I fax you the documents? No. Your records show I'm living in Canada, right? Yes. Do I still have to go in person to a BoA branch, crossing an international border en route? Yes. Don't you see how completely unreasonable that is? [Pause]... You have to go to a branch in person and show identification. Well, that's how that call went.

Also on Day 3 I made a second call to BoA in the hopes a different associate would be more reasonable. This second associate first considerately explained BoA ATM Fraud Protection and the conversation essentially followed the first, verbatim.

Somewhere in the midst of Day 3 any remaining positive feelings about ATM fraud protection, and Bank of America, had turned massively negative.

Still on Day 3, after having driven over an hour, crossing the international border, I presented IN PERSON two forms of identification at a BoA branch all the while wondering if I'd been living further from the border whether BoA would expect me to pay for an international flight (I wasn't optimistic). The branch associate looked at my identification and considerately put me on the phone with the BoA ATM Fraud Protection office – after one disconnected call and 10 minutes on hold (at least it doesn't happen to only me). The phone associate considerately explained BoA Fraud Protection and cleared my card. What needs to be done so this fiasco never happens again, since, you know, I'm living in Canada, now? [Pause]... I'll make a note in your file that you're living in Canada.

I didn't tell the phone associate what I really wanted to say in response to that enormously depressing statement.

After the call ended, I wondered aloud what would have happened if I'd lived somewhere like Thunder Bay where I would have had to take an international flight. The branch associate considerately recommended that next time I raise more of a stink; perhaps in that case BoA would reimburse money for gas. That the branch associate apparently assumed that this fiasco would occur in the future didn't leave me exactly brimming with confidence.

So here I am, stuck with an “okay-to-use” Bank of America check card but too afraid to use it for fear of being forced to travel to the USA, again.

Problem solved? Me thinks I've been duped. I'm back where I started in a depressingly circular fashion.


Anonymous said...

I am about to switch my direct deposit and debit transactions away from Bank of America for this reason, which will cost BofA a substantial amount of monthly business travel transactions.

100% of my non-US business trips begin with an expensive international cellular roaming call to the BofA international fraud protection hotline. These are cities that I visit regularly (including the great white north), so it's not justified to claim an "unusual" transaction pattern.

This happens despite the fact that I call BofA in advance of travel to report the location and dates of travel. Apparently, the computer is aware of the presence of an account notation but is unable to parse the content (e.g. city/country name). BofA fraud detection logic is apparently not capable of:

(a) acting on a location change until transactions start taking place in the new location

(b) remembering previous locations for an extended period of time

In the category of small mercies, it only takes one or two calls and then the card works for the remainder of the trip (verified up to a week).

One alternative is a Schwab account that offers a debit card, which has the additional benefits of refunding ATM fees and lower foreign currency transaction fees ( http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/foreign-exchange-fees-going-up-1267.php ).

In Canada, Scotiabank ATMs for BofA withdrawals will save you $5 + 1% foreign exchange fee per withdrawal ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_ATM_Alliance ) compared to other ATMs.

Recently, BofA called on a Saturday to say that a merchant lost a batch of debit card numbers (including mine) and that I had one hour left to use the card before it would be cancelled. A branch visit would be needed for replacement - no amount of reasoning would convince them to delay the cancellation by even one day.

Apparently the BofA fraud control department does not anticipate the possibility of their customers being outside of the country and unable to visit a branch. When they say Bank of America, they mean it!

r32argent said...

Me, too -- when the exchange rate improves I'm planning to take out all my money and close out any BoA accounts. Not worth the hassle, the stress, or my time.