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.


Savanna Kougar said...

Wow, that's a new one on me. I knew about the regs that so-called dormant accounts could be taken... actually, once you put money in the bank IT IS NO LONGER YOURS, but belongs to the bank... anyhoo, never having had an escrow account I sure didn't know they were now trying to SCREW people over with that 'you can't touch it, and if you don't we can take it' routine. Figures, though.

GLAD! You got it worked out though. I've gone a few rounds with my bank over a login problem, within the past year, and it just gets tougher to get anyone with any kind of common sense to do anything that works, or should work. I sure wish I'd been smart enough, soon enough, and I would have looked at other alternatives to the whole banking system trap.

Pat C. said...

My mistake was in trying to correct the problem to start with. I probably could have simply signed the form and mailed it back in the envelope provided and everything would have been fine. All the bank wanted was a signature. I didn't understand until I went through this that an escrow account is a savings account, and if savings accounts don't see any action in two years they can be labeled dormant. These regs must be new, because that account's been sitting there just fine with everybody since around 2006. This is the first time I've gotten this kind of a notice. Which I shouldn't have gotten in the first place because I didn't open the account; the guy who owns the mobile home park did. The letter should have gone to him. That was the bank's mistake.

This all reminds me of a story I heard somewhere years ago about a parson who had to fill out an annual form regarding his church. One of the questions had to do with the square footage of the church. After trying to calculate the building's size, the parson just filled in the blanks with fake numbers. That worked. Thereafter, when he did the paperwork, he filled in that line with whatever he felt like. One year he had the church's size listed as one inch by one inch. Nobody ever questioned him. The people glancing at these forms just wanted to see numbers in those spaces, whether the numbers made sense or not. Such is the nature of bureaucracies.

Savanna Kougar said...

It is a recent reg as I understand it, given the articles I've read. Yeah, in this day and age, probably the best thing to do is simply sign it and send it back... but who knows what really works??? ...'course, my thought is, if they decide to come after you for whatever reason, then they'll use the evidence like the church sends in to get you.

Pat C. said...

Except my signing was okayed, witnessed and verified by the manager at the bank, so it's on his head now. And yes, I made a copy of the letter. Now we'll see if I start getting monthly statements again. Extra added bonus: I know where the park owner lives now. (evil grin)

Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, I know you were okayed by the system... it is on their head. I was just contemplating on the church's approach to the forms... and being passed over by the bureaucracy at this point... some churches have already experienced horrific consequences because they went against the system, and tried to be independent from the bureaucracy. Innocent people have been convicted and jailed, or are political prisoners.