How Bank of America gave away my money

TLDR: Bank of America is a horrible business and it should be ashamed by how bad it is.

Two weeks ago, I suddenly received emails informing me that my Bank of America account was overdrawn. Confused, I logged onto my online banking account to discover that all my money (more than $3,400) had disappeared from both my saving and checking accounts. Not only were the balances stripped clean, I had outstanding fees and my checking account had gone negative as a result. My heart sank and my first thought was that my personal computer had been compromised somehow. What actually happened turned out to be in some ways worse and this is the story of how I found myself in an absurdist bureaucratic nightmare straight out of the movie Brazil. Best of all, it’s almost entirely Bank of America’s fault. This is the story of how I pieced it all together.

Scarlet Letters

A closer examination of my bank statements revealed that I had received two legal orders. These are writs of executions issued by a court to collect monetary judgments and fines. Immediately, this two innocuous lines told me that I was not the victim of hacking. However, the mystery only deepened. Since I have never been party to a law suit, this was puzzling. Surely it had to be a mistake?

To add insult to injury, Bank of America refused to include a copy of the legal order in the online statement and informed me in crimson red text to visit a banking center or “try again later”. Spoiler: It turns out that neither of those two recommended courses of action was the right one. To this day, the notice is not available on my online account, so “trying again” was never going to do anything. The instructions might as well have said, “fuck off”.

You are not truly sorry.

Catch-22

A few days later, duly following instructions, I took time off work to go to my local branch to speak face-to-face to a “Relationship Manager”.

“Oh, you can see that in your online account,” she said with a smile.

“But…the notice told me to visit a banking center…” I was confused.

“Well, that’s odd. We do not have access to your notices here.” She was confused too. “Did you make sure to log on to the full desktop website?”

At this point in my adventure, I knew that Bank of America is not a bank that had its shit together and that it was entirely my fault that I entrusted my money to this two-bit operation. Instead of screaming my lungs out as any reasonable person is entitled, if not morally obligated, to do in the same position, I patiently logged on to my online banking account in front of her and showed her exactly the red glowing text where her unsympathetic faceless corporate overlords had constructed a paradoxical catch-22 for the both of us to ponder.

“Look, it says right here in red that I should come to see you in person.”

“Hmmm… I guess it does.”

Upon checking twice to make sure reality remained consistent and that the Matrix had not rebooted, she finally accepted the undeniable fact that the instructions she had faithfully repeated were utterly useless, picked up her phone, and called the legal department. After a few brief words, she reached for a sticky pad and started taking down some notes. Hanging up the phone, she turned back to me and said, “The order came from the LA Sheriff’s Department. Here’s the number you should call.”

I walked out of the Palo Alto banking center more confused than I entered. Not only had my money been taken by the judicial system, it was not even a jurisdiction that I had ever worked or lived in! Did I accidentally leave behind some unpaid parking tickets during my brief visit to BlizzCon in Anaheim which somehow snowballed into more than $3,400 in fines? That’s ridiculous. A million scenarios ran through my head, each more absurd than the last.

It was already too late in the day to call the LASD. I went online to the department’s website, but the case lookup tool was returning database errors, apparently because the administrator turns off the database server every night for “maintenance”. I resigned to sending the department an email through their website’s 1990s feedback form.

The servers need to sleep #SiliconLivesMatter

Untimely Notice

A few days later, after Bank of America had already given away my money, I finally received a legal notice in the mail warning me that it was going to do so and that I should get the sheriff’s department to rescind the order before the transfer went through. Just a bit too late, I suppose. The bank clearly could not afford to email or call me in a timely fashion before taking all my money. The physical notice contained some additional (interesting) details:

  1. The case number VDS1412668
  2. 5060 MONTCLAIR PLAZA LANE vs. DRAGON GATE OR, LLC is the case name
  3. The total amount levied was for $152,329.53! Thank God my credit union was infinitely more competent than the buffoons at Bank of America.

It felt like good news. After all, I am absolutely certain that I have no relationships to the defendant named in that case. I deserve my money back. Surely the legal system will protect my rights?

The Sheriff’s Department

With renewed confidence, I called the LASD’s Court Services Division the next day. A lady with a slight accent answered my call.

“Hi, I am calling because my bank received a legal order from LASD and wired my money. However, I looked up the case name and I have absolutely no relations to the defendant named in the order.”

“What is your case number?”

“VDS1412668.”

“Are you Chang?”

“Yes, but you realize that is a really common Chinese name.”

“Is your last name Jiang?”

“Yes, but again… Look, my full name is Chang Xing Jiang. First name Chang Xing and last name Jiang.”

“So it’s not Chang Jiang?”

“No!” Because clearly people here cannot grasp the idea that someone’s first name can contain a space.

“Is the last four digit of your SSN not 5189 (not the actual digits)?”

“No! It’s 5168! Are you telling me that they could not even match the social security number and yet felt confident wiring thousands of dollars based on a partial name match?” At this point, I felt almost compelled to pull the racism card. Yes, I understand that Chinese names all look alike when romanized, but how hard was it to realize that the SSNs were different!

“Uhh… hold on I need to talk to my superior. Could you hold?”

A few minutes later, she came back with the bad news. “Why didn’t you call earlier? It’s too late for us to withdraw the request. The money was already sent to the court! You need to go down to the courthouse and ask them to show you the court documents.”

“And where might that be?”

“247 West 3rd Street. San Bernardino.” As in, San Bernardino in Southern California. I live 6 hours away in Northern California.

“Right. Of course. Thanks.”

The Court

I searched online and found a number for the courthouse. After twenty minutes of fiddling around with the automated menu and waiting in line, I finally found myself speaking to a human clerk.

“Hi, I am calling because my bank received a legal order from LASD and blah blah blah…”

“What is your case number?”

“VDS1412668.”

“Which defendant are you? There are many defendants named.”

“Well I am not him or her, but I think the name is Chang Jiang.”

“Ah, yes, I see you. Yes, unfortunately if you would like to challenge the payment you would need to file a motion to the court.”

“But I am not one of the defendants!”

“I am sorry sir. I am just a clerk. We are not allowed to provide you with legal advice.”

“Okay, so I need to find a motion?”

“Yes, but I cannot advice you on what kind of motion to file. I suggest you look online or engage a lawyer.”

“And it is okay for me to file a motion even though I am not actually party to this lawsuit at all?”

“I am sorry, I cannot give you legal advice. But you can definitely try to look online. Or call legal aid.”

“Okay, which one?”

“Where are you, sir?”

“Menlo Park, California. I am in Northern California, not Los Angeles.”

“I only have the legal aid number for San Bernardino. Please look online.”

“Great. Thanks.”

Legal Aid

“Hi, I am calling because my bank received a legal order from LASD and blah blah blah…”

“Sorry, where do you live?”

“Menlo Park.”

“You should call the San Mateo county legal aid.”

“Alright.”

San Mateo Legal Aid

“Hi, I am calling because blah blah blah…”

“Where do you live?”

“Menlo Park.”

“How old are you?”

“28.”

“Ah, you should call this lawyer referral service run by the bar association. Here’s their number.”

“Okay…”

San Mateo Bar Association

“Hi, I am calling because blah blah blah…”

“Yes, great. So what we do here is match you with one of our members for a $30 fee which guarantees you a 30-minute conversation. What happens afterwards is between the two of you.”

“Okay that sounds good to me.”

“Where did you say the court was located?”

“San Bernardino.”

“Ahhh… Our members do not practice there. You might want to try the Santa Clara or Los Angeles bar association.”

“And they offer the same referral service?”

“Yes, they have similar services but I do not know their fees.”

“Okay.”

Santa Clara Bar Association

I fiddled around with the automated menu. Finally found the right option.

“Our call center is closed today. Our operation hours are 8am to 5pm from Monday to Friday. Please…”

I looked at my phone. It was 2pm on a Tuesday. Figures.

Los Angeles Bar Association

“Hi, I am calling because blah blah blah…”

“How much are you looking to recover?”

“$3,400.”

“Unfortunately, that amount is too low for our lawyers to be concerned with. I suggest you try legal aid.”

“@#%@$^#”

Conclusion

At this point, I hold very little hope that I will ever see my money again. On the LASD website, which is finally working, I can see that the next pending payout for the case is exactly all the money Bank of America gave away from my account minus legal fees. It’s right there, seemingly within my grasp, but somehow the legal system has constructed a perfectly circular Escher puzzle which always manages to present the illusion of an impossible solution just barely out of sight.

Pending payout: my money

It seems to me that Bank of America did not perform due diligence in releasing my money. The only notice it provided me was sent through physical mail, which arrived too late to matter. Despite the fact that it had both my email address and phone number and a very secure online channel through which it could send me notifications, it chose a mean of communication that is neither reliable nor timely. It feels almost as if, in its eagerness to satisfy the legal order and be rid of the problem, Bank of America would rather not hear back from me.

Finally, I have confirmation from the LASD that neither the full name nor the SSN of the defendant in question matched the personal details associated with my bank accounts. The defendant’s listed mailing address was in Oregon, a state that I had never lived in. Having investigated this frustrating incident, I question the basic competency of Bank of America as an institution. If you are ethnically Chinese or have a name that can be easily confused, I suggest you do not use Bank of America.

Update: It turns out that writing a blog post works better than talking to the bank representatives beyond simple catharsis. I received a call from someone on Bank of America’s social media team who credited the money back to my account. Thanks everyone for all the great suggestions here!

54 thoughts on “How Bank of America gave away my money

    1. I would go to your local PD and fill out a theft report against LASD. They have essentially stolen your money. Don’t forget to include those a**holes at BOA too. They cost me $9000 because they canceled one of my payments. Because I made two at once they assumed I made a mistake when I meant to do that. I lost a lot due to those them over 20 years ago. BOA SUCKS use a credit union.

      1. I use bank of America as well but, I too have seen​money missing with my account. I received a overdraft charges as well. I had 8, 000$ in checking and savings. I am as of today going to withdraw my money and put it into a credit union bank. Wow and I thought I was going crazy.

  1. Keep pestering BOA. Work your way higher up the food chain. If you don’t get anywhere, sue them yourself in small claims court. You’ll get your money plus interest, and who knows, judge might even sympathize and award some punitive damages.

    1. This same BS from BofA happened to me though in a different way. I know from experience they never will call or email you. At some point you have to figure your personal worth in dollars per hour, decide then you’ve put in $3,400 of your time and then either call it guts or continue. I hope you get your cash back – really.

  2. When BoA gave away all my money without warning (a much smaller amount, thankfully), after being messed around by indifferent customer service staff on long and expensive international phone calls (I am in the UK), I had to contact the CEO’s office to get things sorted.

    1. Random hint: Google Talk (now called Hangouts Dialler) lets you make international calls from UK to US, from your smartphone, via wifi, for very small amounts of money.

      This was very useful for me that time I (also in the UK) had to spend several hours talking to them, patiently explaining why I wasn’t going to pay them over $2000 in fees on an account I’d closed nine months prior.

      At one point, they even told me to visit a local branch. I told them I was in England, and they said “that’s east cost, right?”.

      The level of incompetence exhibited by this institution is truly breathtaking.

  3. Approach a attorney and file a suit against BoA, yes you will not only win but your legal fees can be recovered from BoA. Tell the attorney that he could take a % of your win against BoA. I suggest you do it quickly

  4. Small claims, social media, elevating to the CEO as best you can, and other routes are good but also see if a local TV station has an “investigative” arm that goes to bats for consumers. This is a ridiculous story and while the sum doesn’t seem meaningful to lawyers, it’s meaningful to everyone else. best of luck.

  5. This is crazy! My buddy just showed me a legal service which is a pretty cool and you can pay $20/month for legal advice and this seems like a perfect test of that service. Check it out http://bit.ly/2o0YSxz (I do get a commission if you sign up) I posted on HN as well.

  6. I literally feel your pain. Some clown used my checking account to make a car payment. I saw it before it cleared. Called BofA and they could have cared less. Anyway, I’m leaving them ASAP.

  7. I’ve mentioned this to people a lot, but there are books on the subject called Wealth Protection. Anyway, what you need to do is walk into the bank with a “Declaration of Trust” document and open a trust account. Make yourself the trustee (or an LLC corporation where you are a partner, or an attorney), and the beneficiaries can be anyone else. Then have a separate paper signed and notarized saying the beneficiaries give up all claims to ownership of the trust to you. Do not give this to the bank but keep it in your records. Then go fill out an SS4 filing online for free for the name of trust to get a nine digit FEIN number, referencing the ssn of one of the beneficiaries named in the trust. So, you need those two documents, then walk into any bank, open an account in the name of the trust, and then use that. This protects you from any liens or judgements in the future that may arise against your name. You will be thanking me later, especially if you ever have anything to protect.

  8. Tough times these are, really sorry to hear your story! This system is getting so overwhelming, I basically fear death by incompetence from any large scale entity. You said the right words when mentioning “Credit Union…”. I certainly wont ever bank with Bank of America!

  9. Contact the CFPB and find a lawyer who will take your case on contingency. I have seen people get paid many thousands of dollars for having only a few hundred $$ held up for a day or two by a bank. With a lawyer involved you should be able to get a settlement from BoA far in excess of the amount taken from you.

  10. I am very sorry to hear what is happening to you. The easiest way to solve it would go online and find the concept of a motion. Then file a motion of identity confirmation at the superior court of that County. Explain the situation in your motion and attach a copy of the judgment that is being used against you as a addendum.
    Include in your motion/claim bank of America claiming a compensation for their mistakes of at least $10,000, do the same with the sheriff’s office that send the paperwork to the bank.
    At trail, try not to say too much, just present your state ID with your SSN and your case will be solved.
    You don’t need a lawyer, you have the right to approach the court yourself and collect an additional $20,000.
    Good luck

    1. Claudia has it right. BofA and the LASD are both at fault here and you can easily win a settlement for all that you have had to go through due to their mistakes.

    1. WTF! Do you own stock in B of A? There is no excuse for the way this was handled by the bank. What if he would have had the amount of the judgement? It would have all been gone, of course.

  11. I really hope you win a large judgement against LASD and BoA! Get you local media and politicians involved. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the oil/$.

  12. I also, a BoA customer, had money wired out due to an unknown lawsuit. Lost about 1,200 + 85 in overdraft fees. Hired a lawyer who went to court, had the judgment vacated and I was awarded 500 in damages. However, it all went to the lawyer so I was still out the money (and had to pay the taxes on the $500 award) but did get a lawsuit wrongfully prosecuted removed. Lesson learned? Keep my money in a safe at home. At least if someone is going to rob me, they’ll have to stick a gun in my face rather send an order to a bank and I in turn can pull out my concealed carry and point it back at them (the robber, not the bank). I loathe BoA but generally I hate banks, lawyers and our broken legal system.

  13. If the Sheriff hasn’t yet released the money to the judgment creditor, the easiest way to resolve this is to file a third party claim with the Sheriff and the Court where the lawsuit was filed. See Code of Civil Procedure sections 720.110 et seq. You can find the judicial council forms to fill out online.

    1. Also, as some of these other yahoos mention, you do have a claim against the bank. You can always take it to small claims court to recover your $3,400. That’s almost certainly much more trouble than filing the third party claim.

      Finally, I misspoke in my first message. The EASIEST way to resolve this may be to call the attorney for the judgment creditor and explain what’s going on. He may be willing to release the levy. Failing that, file the third party claim.

  14. I came across this article just now. I do not know who you are. I am pissed off for you and hope you sue and get all your money back plus damages. Those incompetent clerks and their so called supervisors need to be fired as an example.

  15. Local television stations that have a “consumer action” reporter &/or team of reporters could be your best bet when you are dealing with an unresponsive big company — Humana just coughed up a woman’s $$$ here in the Tampa Bay area not long ago after she went to the local ABC affiliate with her story — she had been trying to get her health insurance coverage situation rectified for months, but it took the TV correspondent just a single day to get things fixed.

    1. Same here.We have a TV station WAVY TV 10 in Hampton Roads Va. They “call themselves 10ON YOUR SIDE.They just dealt with the company that deals with tolls for one of our local tunnels. Went straight to the governor. ALL THE LOCAL BUSINESSES KNOW NOT TO MESS WITH WAVY TV. As they know that they WILL BE HOUNDED until the problem is solved.

  16. It turns out that writing a blog post works better than talking to the bank representatives beyond simple catharsis. I received a call from someone on Bank of America’s social media team who credited the money back to my account. Thanks everyone for all the great suggestions here!

  17. Boa sucks. Had a credit card and missed one payment in ten yrs. They wouldn’t reverse late charges so I closed the account. Next month I look on statement and notice thousands of earned points.
    So of course I call BOA to get points redeemed toward my balance and she says sorry you closed your account. Wtf.” That’s my money ”
    I say. Again sorry sir. So I ask to reopen account to access my points and she says “sorry they’re gone”. Gone where? Home for lunch?
    Freaking awesome. Place sucks. Literally

  18. You should not post the last four numbers of you SSN. For your own protection, you should remove it as soon as possible.

  19. Echoing my comment on Hacker News:

    “I know how to handle these dumb fucks. (I had a Mortgage with them, that makes me an expert)
    I had a problem with them coughing up an escrow refund check, although there is much more to the story that would have most of you boiling.
    I filed complaints with a total of 3 agencies and received my check via FedEx Priority overnight not long after. Suck it, BofA.
    * Filed complaint with CFPB * Filed with Texas State Attorney General’s Office (Insert your state here) * Filed complaint with Office of the Comptroller of Currency (HelpWithMyBank.gov)
    Trust me. If you file a very well articulated complaint to each of these entities, they will feel the heat and resolve it.”

  20. I am an attorney. Although this is not my practice area, I think you’ve got a case against BOA that’s bigger than you think.

    If I were you I’d call every class action attorney in town to find out if they could bring a class action against BOA for a gazillion causes of action. There got to be some statutory violations on the bank’s part, as well as breach of fiduciary duties, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, etc. etc. Class action attorneys won’t charge you a fee upfront because if they win they’re going to get paid big bucks for their work while you, the class representative, could receive a court approved incentive compensation, usually several times of your actual damage, in addition to getting your money back.

    Also, I would be really surprised if similar incident happened to a John Smith or Juan Garcia. The fact that you belong to the quiet model minority that rarely makes trouble seems to have played a role in this whole mess. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”, don’t be so nice and let someone sxxt on your head my friend!

  21. I’m glad you got credited your money, but I’d encourage you to file a complaint with CFPB just to flag this anyway. If this happened to you, it’s probably happening to other people (who don’t write blogs), and the CFPB was specifically created to prevent/investigate this sort of awfulness. The complaint portal https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/ is straightforward and you could probably just dump most of what you’ve written here into their forms.

    1. You’ll notice on the last document that the debtor’s SSN and driver’s license number are marked as “unknown”. How convenient.

  22. In March 2011 Bank of America paid a Chase Bank business check for $8631.25 out of my personal B of A checking account. They fixed it but it took constant monitoring and I never received an explanation of the cause as I had been promised. After I filed a complaint with the FDIC, they BS’ed their way out of it and essentially said it was all my fault for not understanding how to read a bank statement. I pulled all of my money out of the bank soon after.

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