Thursday, September 24, 2015
Break the Bank
The only good thing about bureaucracies is that their idiocy provides great fodder for blogs. Case in point:
When I moved into the trailer park about ten years ago, I had to pay a security deposit, just like you do with an apartment. The park owner set up an escrow account to hang on to the deposit. I don’t have access to this money. The account is with his bank, in his name as the escrow agent. When/if I move out of the park, I get the money back, plus any accrued interest.
Every month I get a statement from the landlord’s bank, informing me of how little interest “my” account is earning. Usually I just date these and toss them into my filing cabinet. This month, for reasons unknown, I decided to look at it. Good thing. It wasn’t a statement. It was a letter from the bank informing me “my” account had been declared dormant because there’d been no activity on it for two years. If an account sits dormant too long, the bank can take the money. Nice scam.
So I hied myself over to the nearest Fulton Bank branch (yes, I’m outing you guys. Live with it.) to get some answers. First off, why send this to me? I’m not their customer. The landlord is. The letter should have gone to him. Yeah, but it’s my name and address on the monthly statement. He’s only listed as the escrow agent. I get the statement, I get the letter. And somebody tell me how an escrow account can be declared dormant in the first place. Escrow accounts are holding actions for things like security deposits. They’re supposed to sit there. That’s the point. Well, the teller told me, the government has new regulations. If they say it’s inactive, it’s inactive. This includes accounts that are inactive by definition. Your tax dollars at work.
There was an easy out, however. Either put some money in the account, or take some out. Prove it’s still active. Or sign the form on the letter they sent me, verifying my address. That would get me off the hook. Piece of cake.
Except no. I’m not a Fulton Bank customer. I didn’t set up the account. I have no access to it. If I did I’d shut it down and take my money back. However, I don’t have the account number. My landlord does. He’s their customer. He’s the only one authorized to sign the form. The teller informed me I’d have to get in touch with him and have him sign it to set things right.
To sum up: government regs have declared an account you’re not supposed to touch can be made dormant if you don’t touch it. The bank sent the notice to me even though I’m not their customer. But it’s still my money in there, which I stand to lose because I can’t access the account I didn’t set up. I’m not allowed to sign the form they sent me. And now it’s up to me, says the bank, to straighten everything out.
This was Friday afternoon. I called the landlord. He has an answering machine. You call him and you leave a message and wait for him to get back to you. He didn’t get back to me. Luckily he lives in the general area, so I used his name and phone number to get his home address off Google. When I didn’t hear back after 24 hours I drove out to his house. He wasn’t home. I spent the weekend stewing in my juices. I couldn’t even blow off steam on a road trip because my 20-year-old car, which just passed inspection, started making clunking noises Friday morning. I road-tested it on that trip to the landlord’s house. Only he wasn’t there and I can’t reach him by phone and everything’s closed until Monday anyway. Aren’t weekends the days you’re supposed to kick back and relax?
I did get the chance to think things over. Monday I went out and did things right. I went to a different Fulton branch and asked to talk to a manager. Managers have to be nice to people because they can’t afford to offend current or potential customers, unlike some harried, low-paid teller. After a phone consultation with somebody else up the ladder, he determined I could sign the form. All the home office wanted was verification of the address. As long as the signature approximated one of the names up top, they’d be satisfied. Bureaucracy, remember?
So I slapped my sig on the dotted line and turned the form over to the manager and we were hunky-dory once again. Though I’ll never open any accounts at Fulton Bank. They don’t even know who their customers are and the tellers just want to get rid of you. If they get gobbled up in a merger somewhere down the line, I won’t be surprised.
Not two hours after I settled matters on my own, the landlord called. I told him I’d taken care of things. I also verified his home address, for backup. You better answer your phone from now on, bub. I know where you live.
And don’t worry about the car. The garage had to replace a wheel rod so it would pass inspection. One of the bolts had worked itself loose. That’s what caused the clunking. The mechanic tightened it up and now the car’s quiet again. Because it was their error, I didn’t have to pay for it. I took a road trip yesterday and I’m feeling much better now. Though I might start stuffing money in my mattress after this. You never know what a bureaucracy might try to pull on you next.