When I first saw headlines about this case, I was sure there must be a whole lot to the story and that the bank would have laws and documentation on their side. Wrong!
Below is a narrative written by Greg Miller, the son of Bette Miller, the woman being fleeced. He wrote the narrative for Consumerist.com, the site giving this story a lot of publicity.
The narrative is long, but here is a summary of the main facts:
- Bette Miller bought a $5,000 bond from Rainier Bank in April 1984. The face of the bond stated that it automaticaly reinvested every two years. It also stated that in order to cash it, you had to present the actual bond. The bond certificate was put in a safe deposit box and left there.
- Rainier Banik was sold to Seattle Pacific Bank, which was acquired by SeaFirst Bank, which was bought by Bank of America.
- Bette’s husband died about 12 years ago. Up until that point, he handled most of the financial matters for them. The bond in question was in a safe deposit box at that time. Bette didn’t need money at that time, so she didn’t even look in the safe deposit box to see what was there.
- In April 2005, Bette had a silent heart attack and was eventually moved to an assisted living facility. Her children started going through her finances and went to cash in the bond, at Bette’s request.
- Greg tried to cash the bond at the Bank of America branch in Monroe, Washington. After “researching” it for a couple of weeks, the bank said they would not cash it. Further inquiries by Greg resulted in the bank asing for Form 1099s to prove that the Millers owned the bond. Greg asked what 1099s were, and the bank said they were tax forms that the bank is responsible for producing. And Greg is supposed to give 1099s to them???
- Bank of America then told them that they had no record of the bond, and didn’t keep records older than 7 years. Since they had no record of the bond, Bette couldn’t receive her money. She can’t get her money because they lost their records???
- Bank of America carried on with this line of reasoning. The bond itself wasn’t enough to prove their claim. Remember above, where Greg said the face of the bond said that the bond itself was required in order to cash it. It apparently doesn’t say anything else about any other “proof” required to get the bondholder’s money.
- This is where Greg makes a great illustration. The bank is essentially saying “we lost our records so YOU have to bring additional proof of your claim.” Imagine if you bought a car from me and we had a contract. You throw away your copies of the contract, and when I come to collect my money, you tell me that my copy of the contract isn’t enough proof and you’re not paying! How far would you get with that argument?
- Greg also points out that some of Bank of America’s advertising uses the tagline, “The bank with a higher standard.” Ironic?
- At present, the bond is worth about $30,000, and the Miller family has had to hire attorneys at their own expense to fight Bank of America. The family wants the bond paid, and wants their legal fees paid because they shouldn’t have had to hire attorneys to get back what was rightfully owed to them and for which they had proper documentation, as evidenced by the face of the bond itself.
Greg’s complete narrative:
In about April of 2005 my mother had a silent heart attack. She was on the floor of our family home of 40 years for about two days and was rushed to the hospital. Her ability to care for herself in the family home safely became an issue. She tried to return home and was unable to remain there successfully. Such being the case moving to an assisted living facility became the priority. My sister and I had to help her by doing the leg work of consolidating her financial position, cleaning the house, selling property, and handling liquidation of any investments to help her finance her future. My father died about 12 years ago. Since at that time she was able to continue in the home without difficulty on her social security and the remainder of my father’s pension, there was no need for her to concern herself with their investments or what bonds, stocks, etc. remained in their safe deposit box.
In April of 1984 my mother and father purchased a Rainier Bank Bond for $5000.00. They saw on the face of the bond that it automatically reinvested every two years and saw no reason to cash it. On the face of the bond it clearly stated that you had to present the bond to cash it in. Great! No worries. It remained in the safe deposit box collecting interest. In the mean time Rainier Bank was sold to Seattle Pacific Bank. Seattle Pacific was the acquired by SeaFirst Bank that was then bought by Bank of America. Fast forward to April of 2005, my mother asked me to handle cashing that bond for her. I carried it to the Bank of American branch in Monroe, Washington, where, after a couple of weeks of research, they indicated they would not cash it. I was most frustrated and I wrote a complaint to the BOA CEO in North Carolina. He referred it to one of his functionaries who indicated after further research they would not be paying the bond unless we could come up with Form 1099’s proving our claim. When I asked what 1099 forms were, it was indicated that they were IRS forms. I asked who was responsible for producing these forms and they said, “The bank.” Now the bank had told me they had no record of this bond as they didn’t keep records older than 7 years. It is conceivable that somewhere in the shuffle between all these banks and records the information on this bond was inadvertently lost. The question remains, why would a bank ask for records they know could not exist because they would have had to produce them on a bond for which they have no record, pretty circular logic. I sent the functionaries several more entreaties without BOA stepping up to take care of their contractual responsibilities. I contacted a friend who is an elder law attorney and was referred to our current attorney along with the advice that BOA was trying to either wait for my mother to die or the statute of limitations to run out.
Our attorney checked with unclaimed property in Washington State to determine if the bond had been treated as an unclaimed account and escheated to the State. No record of any escheatment was found to exist. An investigation launched by our attorney inquiring to the Federal Comptroller of the Currency resulted in the governmental equivalent of a shrug; they were unable to make certain verification either way. They said the bank had allowed folks to cash the bond without actually having the bond previously. It is weird when a bank has a contract and they see fit to, by choice, violate that contract with others as a way of getting out of honoring it at all with those that comply with the contract. Then BOA told us that the bond/contract was not sufficient and couldn’t we produce other proof.
This was the rough equivalent of me buying a car, disposing of the contract copies provided me and then acting as though I had no reason to pay for the car because I had no record of it. The bank would produce their copies of the contract to prove their point. Then I would tell them the copies of the contract were not sufficient. We all know that scenario would last-not long at all.
The conclusion our attorney offered appeared correct. It appeared they were stonewalling us. I found it ironic in the extreme that BOA’s tag line on advertising was “The bank with a higher standard.” Their higher standard involved ignoring contractual obligations and attempting to rip off an 80 year old widow in assisted living with no conscience, doing their best to get away with whatever they thought they were able to get away with because they are a big bank and do not care about anyone or anything but their bottom line and are willing to do anything to enhance that bottom line.
I, my mother, and our attorney continue to tenaciously pursue this both on substance and principle. If my mother can be ripped off then none of us is safe. We all entrust our funds to banks for our future, both short and long term. I began to wonder if I should not start stuffing my mattress because at least I could guarantee the mattress could be made to give it back to me with just a little wrestling with it.
By the way, the value of the bond is currently in the neighborhood of about $30,000.00. We also want BOA to pay our legal fees as we never would have had to obtain an attorney had they stepped up and handled their responsibilities appropriately. Not one thin dime of my mother’s investment should have to be used to pay for an attorney or the hassle this has been for the previous years to her and the entire family. It was BOA’s attitude of unwillingness to work with us that put us in this position and, since it was their actions that caused this they also need to shoulder the fiscal responsibilities that their actions forced on us.
On a more personal note, I find this whole scenario disgusting, frightening, and depressing. Banks tell us to invest our money with them. They tell us it is safe, trustworthy, and backed by the FDIC. My parents saved for their retirement and now, when my mother needs the money, the Bank denies they owe her a dime. They hold her accountable for their poor record keeping and use that as an excuse to take her money. This behavior is reprehensible and causes a lack of faith in banks in general and Bank of America in particular. They are behaving with callous disregard to my mother, their moral and legal obligations, their business ethics, and the public trust. This is my mother, who birthed me, raised me, loved me, and protected me. Now it is my turn and I will not let her down nor see anyone else do so.
Herb Weisbaum was kind enough to work on telling our story and insuring others knew about it. If this issue is of concern to your readers, please have them communicate their displeasure with BOA to:
Kenneth D. Lewis
Chairman, CEO, and President
Bank of America Corporation
Bank of America Corporate Center
100 North Tryon Street
Charlotte, North Carolina 28255
Hope this helps clarify the situation to your readers.