Let me tell you a little story about a goofy ol’ worldwide bank that you might’ve heard of: Citibank.
(UPDATE, 2/19: Citibank has a total of 3 women working for them who are not like the story below.)
It’s Friday night, I’m having drinks with my comics instructor, the illustrious (pun intended) Tom Hart. I go to pay for the drinks with my Citibank debit card, hooked up to that silly li’l thing I like to refer to as my “checking account.” The bartender informed me that it wasn’t going through, which was a bit of a surprise… I have a tempestuous relationship with my dough, sure, but I should be able to eek out $20 for cocktails.
Logged into my online account, where a very bright red font did its job of getting my attention: I was overdrawn by four thousand dollars. Hmmmm. I quickly ran through the past week: yes, it’d been an insane week with lots going on, and yeah, there were a coupla fuzzy spots in my memory, but I was, um, pretty sure that I couldn’t have spent all the money in my checking and my overdraft and then still have been overdrawn by… let me repeat… four thousand dollars.
Looking through my list of transactions, it didn’t take long to pinpoint the problem: a check for $4,900. Again with the quick brain scan: did I write a $4,900 check? No, no, I didn’t. The image of the check itself showed a check that wasn’t one of mine (but had all my info on it), made out to someone I didn’t know, in handwriting that was also not mine. Fascinating. But also… Very Bad Indeed.
I picked up the phone and called Ye Olde “Customer Service.” From here on out, “customer service” will always be printed in quotes when referring to Citibank, and should be read as if I were performing finger quotes each time I say it. After a 15-minute wait for a “customer service” representative to come online, I explained what I’d discovered, and asked what we could do about it.
“You’ll have to take two forms of ID to your local branch and file a fraudulent check claim,” said the “customer service” guy on the phone.
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“No,” he said.
As it turns out, Citibank doesn’t really have a plan for this sort of thing. Electronic identity theft? They’re on it. You call ’em, you fax them a letter, and a coupla days later, you got your cash back. Someone goes old school on your ass and makes their own checks with your info? Citibank sorta shrugs and tells you to go old school and find a branch.
The call with “customer service,” to be honest, didn’t end well. I told the representative that I wasn’t going to get off the phone until he told me that Citibank didn’t care about me and the fact that someone’s trying to steal five thousand dollars from me.
“But Citibank does care about you,” he said.
“Clearly, my friend, Citibank does not care about me,” I replied with an increasingly shaky voice, “since you can’t do anything about the fact that I’m overdrawn by four thousand dollars right now because some smartass thief has figured out your system.” (We went back and forth on this point for quite a while; I’ll spare you the complete play-by-play.)
“As I stated before–”
“No need. Keep working for your crappy company that doesn’t give a crap at all. Good luck with that.” I hung up.
Resigned, I waited till today– it was President’s Day on Monday and Citibank was closed — to go to the branch in Park Slope. The “customer service” person there basically told me that because there were insufficient funds in the account for the check, everything would reverse out by Thursday-ish (she couldn’t be sure) and everything would be back to normal. Was I going to have to pay the fees for a bounced check? No, come back and she’ll reverse those for me. (Come back! To the bank! In 2009, ten years into the Age of the Information Superhighway!)
Moving along in the process was impossible without me pulling teeth. Through a series of intense questioning, I figured out that to commence an investigation into the matter, I had to file a police report. Citibank wouldn’t take any action themselves. Right. Why would they?
“What if I had had the money to clear the check?” I asked.
“It would have cleared,” she said quite plainly.
“And I’d be out $4,900?” I asked further, stunned.
“Yes. Then you’d have to file a claim with us, and we’d investigate it. If everything worked out, you’d get the money back in five to seven business days.”
“Uh-huh.” I was too floored to argue the inanity of it with her. “What about the future? Can I put some sort of filter on my account, that checks more than say, the amount of my rent every month should warrant some sort of phone call or other check in?”
“We can’t do that,” she said.
“So, wait– let me get this straight. When I bought my ticket to Hawaii on my debit card a couple of years ago, and Citibank called me within a few hours to make sure that was me doing that… that you can handle. But a piece of paper, that just completely befuddles Citibank’s systems.”
She shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Is there anything I can do to protect myself at all?”
“Well,” she sighed. “You should probably close this checking account because they have the information now, and open up a new one.”
“I think that’s an excellent idea!” I exclaimed. “In fact, I’m going to close all of my accounts with Citibank when I come back, and move everything over to a credit union where I at least stand a chance of someone giving a crap about what happens to me and my money. Thank you!”
I’m actively taking suggestions for credit unions in Brooklyn that folks are happy with. I’d always wanted to join the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union when I lived there, but perhaps because one of my employers is still there, I might still get in. Leave thoughts, prayers, suggestions and other tidibits in the comments.
PS– Extra credit kicker: went to the precinct to file a claim, and they told me Citibank has to give me an affadavit saying that the check is indeed fraudulent. “But I don’t think Citibank either believes me or cares that it’s fraudulent,” I said to the officer. She shrugged and repeated herself. Extreme bureaucracy might be the death of me. It might end up being the number one cause of death someday soon. I can see the Times headline: “Extreme Bureaucracy Kills Nearly 13,000,000 Every Year In US.” Or maybe there’ll be a new diagnosis soon called “Customer Service Rage.” What would that headline be? “Customer Service Rage Blamed in Destruction of Local Bank.”