Friday, January 18, 2013

Making a Scene? Go for it. It works.

My late grandmother, my mother's mother, was an extraordinarily considerate person. She worried incessantly about the comfort and convenience of others, whether they were neighbors, service providers, or complete strangers.

My Mummi, as we called her (because she was Finnish, not because we're clever or anti-traditionalist or whatever), lived much of her life in fear of a family member Making. A. Scene.

She'd be appalled at what the world has come to. It seems that making a scene is increasingly the best way to get things done, particularly when dealing with large entities.

Such as the bank. To get the bank's attention, you must go public, make noise.

Late Wednesday morning, I logged onto my checking account at Citizens Bank. I was planning to pay a few routine bills. The recent activity page showed a significant ($360) debit from a grocery store in Richmond, Virginia, made two days prior.

I haven't been to Richmond since 1999, when a good friend and I drove there for the day to be sworn into the Virginia State Bar. On the date in question, I had used my debit card—in Boston.

When I dropped everything, including the Grape, who had been promised a treat, to call customer service, it took over eight minutes to reach a live human being.

This live human being was very polite, and she cut me off when I said I had a suspicious charge on my account.

"You mean Food Lion in Richmond, right?"


"They actually tried again, for a larger amount, but VISA denied the charge."

"So you, the bank, knew there was a fraudulent charge on my account?" I ask, with the Grape starting to melt down in the background.


"Made without the actual card or PIN or ID?"


"So then why didn't I receive a call? Or at least an email?" The Grape begins to howl. Some toy car has malfunctioned.

She had no answer. She told me that a new debit card would take ten days to reach me, and the credit of $360 would take an equivalent amount of time. They'd send me an affidavit to sign. They'd investigate.

Then the call dropped. She never called back. I didn't call back, because I knew I'd never get the same representative, and I'd have to waste more time bringing someone else up to speed. I emailed customer service to request they speed up my refund. They sent me a message saying they'd respond in 24 to 48 hours.

I pay them, an FDIC bank, to secure my money. They failed to do so. It seems to me they ought to credit the funds while they investigate. What if I were scrapping by, paycheck to paycheck? $360 is not coffee change. Ten days is a long time for so many working moms.

Seething, the Grape and I headed out (late) to an appointment. When I got home, I tweeted about my dissatisfaction. I outlined the problem in a series of tweets:

very troubled that  allowed a thief to use my debit card at  in another state without producing the card (1/3)

 and  evidently flagged the $360 transaction someone made with my card number but no card and DID NOT CONTACT ME (2/3)

.  should require customers who present debit card #, w/o card, to provide PIN/photo ID/CVV for purchase >$350?! (3/3)

I got a call from another polite representative, who said she was with the chairman's office. Lesson learned: Don't sit on hold to complain. Complain on Twitter so thousands of other customers can see you. "I guess Twitter gets results," I said to her.

"It sure does," she agreed, with one of those nervous half laughs.

The representative said she'd overnight me a new card, but that the refund would still take ten days. She assured me she would try to speed that up, but couldn't promise. I guess the chairman doesn't give his office much leeway, since I would think $360 to make a loud and disgruntled customer shut up and go away would seem like a bargain.

I went back to Twitter (for non tweeters, the dot before @ makes the tweet public):

. I find it very troubling that the $360 Citizens admits was stolen from me is STILL NOT BACK IN MY ACCOUNT. (1/2)

. especially since you failed to notify me of the fraud and theft from my account when  alerted you. very unhappy customer

I got another call from the nice lady in the chairman's office this morning, saying the $360 would be back in my account by close of business today. I also received the new card via FedEx.

I'm unimpressed. A number of friends who bank elsewhere contacted me and said any delay in crediting the funds is ridiculous. I'm inclined to agree. Banking isn't what it used to be. 

We pay consumer banks noticeable (and ever larger) fees to maintain modest accounts.

When the banks fail to secure one of those accounts, they should immediately credit the customer during the investigation. Especially if they're not even going to bother to alert the customer to the theft. If you don't want to call me because you screwed up, that's fine. If you're going to play that way, how about putting the money back so I don't notice the loss in the first place?

Needless to say, I'm in the market for a new bank, and I'm inclined to go the small local route. The kind of place that has a live human being answering the phone. I've threatened to channge before, because of monthly fees, but I've been lazy. Moving the bill pay stuff is tedious. Banks know this.

This time, I am properly motivated.

Send me suggestions, please, Boston readers.

Unless, of course:

 @CitizensBank wants to make it up to me by waiving all future maintenance fees on both my accounts...

You might say, I got my money back. The system worked. I disagree. I PAY them to secure my money so I don't have to guard it in my mattress. They dropped the ball. I should be compensated for wasted time, as well as for aggravation.


  1. I know this is SO not the point here but you made me proud with that Twitter tip for your readers. ;)

    1. Ha! Me? An inadvertent tweeting advisor? I guess I just needed proper motivation to figure out the power of the tweet.