If It Could Happen To Me... Part 2

So last week I shared some stats and top-line thoughts about online banking today. First off, thanks to all of you who posted to the Spin blog and shared your beliefs, habits, and comments. I have to say I was surprised by the number of comments. I was also surprised to find that many of you are like me: You've been banking online for years. You have everything set up via online banking to pay your bills, you trust the bank that you are with, and you enjoy the freedom of never writing hard copy checks and sticking them in snail mail again.

Even though studies have shown over half of online adults say their banks need to improve online banking security, most folks who posted to the Spin blog did not mention it. In fact, the bulk of you said you felt secure. Well, I did too.

I won't bore you with all the details of my online banking horrors. I'll give you the quick synopsis of what happened and explain how I'm still dealing with it on a daily basis.

I was an early adopter of online banking (first BayBank, then Fleet -- now Bank of America). I was completely excited back in the day to install software that allowed me to view my accounts online. As time went by, versions of the software were updated and modernized. In fact, it became available online. Time went by and I could access my accounts from any Web-based or hand-held computer. A cool element -- at first. So, thinking I needed to be more organized with my personal finances, I spent half of a Saturday entering in all my bills with account and payee information. I then decided to go in and schedule payments of each bill on a monthly basis.



I took it one step further, and with little efforts set up reoccurring payments for all my bills via online banking. It seemed almost too easy. Once the account information, dollar amount and payee information were in, all I had to do was enter in the date I wanted to pay the bills monthly. The bills that had a different amount each month required me to log onto the system and enter in the amount I wanted to pay. Presto it was as easy as could be.

I loved the idea of having all my information in one place. Quarterly I'd pull data into an Excel spreadsheet to determine business expenses for my 1099s. Again, it was almost too easy.

Till one day I found an error in my account balance. I wondered if there was a delay in online posting. After looking at site FAQs I realized that could be it -- but the next day I logged on and the information was the same. Later that night, I called the 800 number and talked to customer support. Just getting a hold of a live person took me a good half hour. When someone finally answered, I was asked all sorts of information to protect my security. I had to give my account number, state the account was opened up in, name, last 4 digits of my social, my mother's maiden name and my mailing address. I was frustrated, as this was taking too much time. However, I felt good that they asked so many questions to protect me -- the customer.

After about another hour, and talks with two more customer service reps, I had no answers. Funds had been taken out of my bank account and paid somewhere else via online banking. I wasn't able to determine where the funds had gone, as I wasn't able to identify the account number associated with the transaction. There was nothing else I could do on the phone, so I went to the branch - whose reps couldn't help me either.

I had no idea what to do. I scoured through paperwork and dug deep into my account electronically. The next month the same thing happened. I repeated the process to no avail. I decided to take all but about a thousand dollars out of the account and move to a new bank.

What happened next? I'll be brief. Month after month there were attempts to take the same amount of money from my account out. There was not enough to cover it. Now the account went into overdraft and $35 fees were associated with the "failed" transactions.

Skip ahead to the next scene: Months later I finally found a bank manager at the actual branch to help me. After pulling records, I was able to put it all together. Somehow I was being billed monthly for an account that was closed. It was a mortgage for a house I sold in May 2004. When BofA merged with Fleet, somehow my old mortgage payment got activated. I wasn't able to identify the payee, as the mortgage company got bought out and was under a different name.

There's no positive end to the story yet. I have put in formal complaints for about a year. Now the bank says that they have no record of activity from Fleet. I have to submit a year-and-a-half's worth of bank statements via fax to a case manager at BofA. I was able to find that the mortgage company never accepted payment, as my account was closed when the house was sold. The money was sent back to BofA and never to me. Now I have to prove to BofA that it was sent back.

The bank has verbally admitted to having a large chunk of this money but hasn't sent it back to me yet. I am still spending time on a daily basis trying to correct all of this. I found out that when you use online banking, a hard copy check is submitted to the payee (from BofA). This check is done via a third party. In Fleet's case it was Citibank. So when you have a complaint about fraudulent charges you need to deal with the bank, the online banking division and Citibank.

Well, I am maxing out my word count here. You get the drift, though. I could go on and on. Although we spend our lives online and many of us make a living online, truth is we don't know it all. Before you put your savings into someone else's hands, remember, in a matter of a click, it could disappear....

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