I Call This My WaMu Nightmare

Reader Krissy writes in with an absolutely horrible story about dealing with WaMu after her purse was stolen. She’s been living without a checking account or debit card since October because of WaMu.

Some highlights:

  • WaMu’s phones are “undergoing maintenance” at the time the purse is stolen, so Krissy stays up all night calling them over and over again.
  • The CSR tells her that she doesn’t have to cancel her account… even though her checkbook was stolen. Instead, she tells her to just put a stop payment on the check numbers. This results in lots of additional fraudulent charges on Krissy’s account.
  • She then gets a hold placed on her account, so she can go to a branch to do her banking in person. At the branch, she can’t find a manager who knows how to lift the hold.
  • Eventually she managed to drain her account down to a penny, but WaMu refused to close the account.
  • WaMu then wrote her a letter claiming that Krissy never did the fraud paperwork they sent her and threatening to reverse all the credits.. She called to tell them that she had, indeed, sent it. They apologized and asked her to send it again. She did. They reversed all the credits and sent her account into negative funds anyway.

Here’s Krissy’s letter.

Hello, my name is Krissy [redacted]. And I have been dealing with what I not-so-fondly refer to my WaMu nightmare since last October.

The story goes something like this:

In mid-October I was celebrating a friend’s birthday at a local restaurant, when my purse was stolen off of my chair. After searching for it to no avail, my boyfriend and I ran home so I could call all of my financial institutions and report my cards/accts stolen. As soon as we walked in, I immediately started calling the 24 hour hotlines. HSBC and Bank of America both canceled my credit cards immediately and said that new cards would be in the mail that week. It had only been an hour since the purse was stolen, and no activity had happened yet, so no harm no foul.

…And then there was Washington Mutual.

Having a checking account, savings account, and credit card all under the umbrella of WaMu, it was of the utmost importance that I got through to them ASAP — so I called the 24 hour customer service line. After going through the automated phone tree, I was put on hold only to eventually get an automated response: (paraphrased) “We’re sorry, we are currently undergoing systematic maintenance — please call back after 6 a.m. Pacific time.” Realizing that time was of the essence, I logged online so I could report my valuables stolen that way. No such luck: online access was disabled too. Though I knew it was probably going to be futile, in my panic I just kept redialing the customer service 800 number. Miraculously, I got through to someone around 3 a.m. (Funny how they weren’t there an hour ago, but I digress.) I explained my situation to the lady on the phone, and she said that I shouldn’t worry — so far no activity had transpired and they could easily report my debit card stolen. I asked her about my checks, as my entire checkbook had been in my purse too. She proceeded to tell me that I could put a stop payment on all of the checks that were stolen. “What are the check numbers?” she asked me. “I don’t know,” I replied, “I don’t have them.” So after about 15 minutes of digging around old statements and figuring out which was the last check I wrote, we came up with an estimate as to which check numbers would be the ones in question. She asked me if they were all blank, and I said ‘of course they were,’ so she told me there would be no fee for the stop payments. Good. So what about my credit card? She told me that the credit card belonged to a separate department, and that she would transfer me. After being on hold for about two minutes, someone picked up… A robot: ” We’re sorry, we are currently undergoing systematic maintenance — please call back after 6 a.m. Pacific time.” …Huh??? I tried calling back several times, and with each call I got the same message. Feeling defeated, I went to bed and resolved to call at 6am.

Sunday morning, 6 a.m., and all is not well. Still, no one is picking up the “24 hour” (HA!) customer service line, and wamu.com is disabled. Finally, around 8 a.m, I manage to get someone on the phone. I re-explain the whole story, and am transferred to the credit card department. They pull up my file, and start asking me about hundreds of dollars worth of purchases that were made overnight, at two separate Walgreens. I fervently dispute the charges, and the woman helping me says that she’ll put a hold on the account, and they’ll mail me a fraud affidavit. She then tells me that someone will need to review everything, but that if I see the fraudulent charges appear on my next statement I shouldn’t worry; they’ll be applying a credit. She assured me that in the meantime, all of my accounts with WaMu would be disabled.

Fast forward one week. I had received my new cards from HSBC and Bank of America, and no transactions had posted to my accounts. Yay for at least one thing going smoothly!

…And then there was Washington Mutual.

After logging in to wamu.com to check up on things, I’m sure you can only imagine my surprise when I saw that several (fraudulent) transactions has posted to my DEBIT card / checking account! Panicked and seething, I called the customer service number again. After getting tossed around by several people who knew not what they were doing (“do you have a claim number? ohh, this is a new claim? yeeaaah, there seems to be a hold on your account…”), I got hooked up with a woman who didn’t completely have her head up her ass. I reiterated the whole story (which was getting longer and longer), and she seemed genuinely stunned that no one on WaMu’s end had handled this whole thing with mroe finesse. Or, you know, just adequately. When I told her about the checks, she nearly had a heart attack.

“Wait, you put stop payments on them??”
“Yes,” I explained, “and to be honest with you, I’m not even sure if we got the check numbers right!”
“Oh honey,” she continued, “whoever did that for you was all wrong. The check numbers don’t matter! Once someone has access to your checking account number and your personal information, they can easily make purchases online and make up their own check numbers!”

Feeling stupid and grossly misled by whomever had “helped” me before, I asked her what we should do next. She said that there should be a permanent hold put on the checking account and it should be slated for closure pending an investigation. She also said that I needed to open up claims for the debit card purchases. I asked her why any transactions had posted in the first place, seeing as how I reported it stolen a mere hour after the incident, and she didn’t know — but assured me that it did say “card lost/stolen,” on her system, and that it had supposedly been disabled. I thanked her and inquired as to how I should go about getting my money out of the account to pay bills and such, seeing as how we were locking everything down like Fort Knox. She said all I had to do was go into a branch and present myself with two forms of I.D. and they would give me cash. Alright, that’s doable.

Or so I thought.

Ahh… Washington Mutual. Your company’s ineptitude never fails to amaze me — whether it’s on the phone or in person. A full two weeks had passed since the fiasco began, and in that time I had been living off of my HSBC credit card and borrowed cash from friends and family, since I had none of my own that I could access. Feeling badly for relying so heavily on loved ones, I decided to show up in-branch on a Saturday morning so I could get some cash out and start repaying debts. After waiting in the teller line for almost 20 minutes, I met up with a teller who proceeded to tell me that my funds were inaccessible, due to “some sort of a hold put upon the account.” “I know,” I said. “I’m the one who put it there.” He stared at me blankly, so I launched into my story, and explained that the lady on the phone advised me to show up with 2 forms of I.D., and then I would be able to receive my cash. Obviously stumped, Inept Teller-Boy said I had to go back to the front desk and get his manager to temporarily lift the hold so I could get cash, because as it was “there’s nothing [i] can do.”

Exasperated, I went back to square one and waited. Eventually, I was attended to be the manager who, as it turned out, was just as inept as his teller. He pulled up my information, turned the screen towards me, and said plaintively “look, there’s a hold!” NO, REALLY??! I wanted to scream.

“There’s nothing I can do.”
“What do you mean there’s nothing you can do? Aren’t you supposed to temporarily lift the hold so I can get cash, and then you reapply the hold seconds later so no one else can access my funds?” He presented me with a business card.

“You need to call this number — it’s Risk Operations — only they can remove a hold.” I wanted to punch him. Instead, I looked at watch and realized I was late for work, so I took the card and left in a huff.

Whilst rotting away in heavy L.A. traffic, I called the number on the card. Lo and behold — they’re not available on weekends! “Please call back during our normal business hours — 7 a.m. to 4 p.m Pacific time, Monday through Friday.” By now my hatred for Washington Mutual was growing to Titanic proportions.

I set my alarm for 6:45 on Monday morning, just so I could be first in line to talk to the powers that be at 7. I waited on hold for 16 minutes. When someone finally answered I calmly prefaced my story:

“I hope that you won’t take my frustration personally — I’m sure you’re a very nice person. But I am dead sick of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing around here, and I need somebody to resolve it. Now.”

After 2 minutes of back-story, my new customer service rep interrupted me: “but ma’am, why are YOU calling us?” Huh??? “When a hold is placed on an account and you go to a branch, the person assisting you in the branch is supposed to call us — not you personally.” I gave her the play-by-play of what the branch manager had said. She snickered.

“He said what? I’m sorry, that’s not right. You need to go back there and tell them that THEY have to call us.”

^$*@(%*^)_!(*^$@*&+!

Having fully realized that my Hollywood branch hired people who apparently had IQs no higher than that of an amoeba, I trekked to Northridge to meet with their people, as I’d received decent service from them in the past. This was on November 12 — a full month after everything started, and one day before my checking account was slated for permanent closure, according to the lady who had set me up with the all-encompassing hold. I was received by a rather hostile woman with a thick accent. I presented her with my identification (an old license, and my social security card). She looked at me disapprovingly.

“Your license is going to expire soon.” Yeah, I know lady. Just give me my money and let me close my account. We sit down and she calls Risk Operations… Where we proceed to be placed on hold for a full half hour. Stony, awkward silence ensues. I can tell she doesn’t like me. But I don’t particularly like her or the institution she represents, so forget what she thinks about me. After 15 minutes of muzak and no conversation, she asks me why I’m not planning on opening a new account. I reply “because, quite frankly, I think that this whole thing has been handled inadequately and at times inappropriately from start to finish. I did what I was supposed to — I reported everything stolen as soon as it happened, I sent in all of my fraud affidavits I received in the mail, and I’ve stayed in constant contact — and I still I can’t touch my money, I haven’t received a credit for the hundreds of dollars of fraudulent purchases, and every time I reach out to someone under the WaMu umbrella, I get told a different story. I’ve simply had enough.” …Her reply?

“Well that can happened ANYWHERE, you know.”

I look at her icily. “I’ll take my chances.”

Huzzah!! Finally, someone answers the phone. She speaks with the people at Risk Operations, and YES!! Some progress has been made! A credit is issued to my debit/checking in the amount that was pilfered, and I’m able to drain my funds. …But one catch: they won’t close the account as it was slated to be. Why? Because they’re not done “investigating.” So I agree to leave it open with one penny, provided they keep the hold on it to prevent further activity. Done and done. I walk out with my money, happy to be basically done with WaMu.

…But they weren’t done with me just yet.

December rolled around, and with it came a letter in the mail from Risk Operations. They contended that they had never received from me any “of the requested information” necessary to further their investigation, and they would be reversing my credits seven days from the date from the letter. Naturally, this was day six. And past the 7 a.m – 4 p.m window. After swearing a blue streak around my apartment, I set my alarm for 6:45 and resolved to call once more at 7. I did, and once more waited ‘in line’ for the next rep. At 7:15 I got a real live person. Trying my best to hold on to my temper, I asked her why on Earth I was receiving this letter when I had been in constant contact with WaMu, and had faxed/mailed all forms that had been sent to me. I proceeded to get a mish-mash of possible scenarios: “We have a big mail room, so maybe it got lost… Oh you have a credit card with us? It’s possible that all of your forms got sent just to the credit card people and not us… Oh, you faxed it too? Yeah, our fax isn’t very reliable.” Despite all of this apparent ineptitude, she proceeded to tell me that unless they received the proper information, they would be reversing the credits. I asked her what I could do. She said I had to write a letter detailing the fraud and send is ASAP — she could extend things on her end for a week while she waited for my response. I asked her if I would receive a call when the letter had been received, or if I should call and check to be sure. This was her priceless answer: “Well we won’t call you. And if you were to call us we wouldn’t know.” (You wouldn’t know??) “Our mail room is a totally separate place and so we don’t know when things come in.” (Or when they don’t!) Great. Fabulous. Fantastic.

Can you guess what happened next?

I wrote my letter, faxed it and mailed it, and naturally, heard nothing. Then on December 31st, I signed online to check up on things. And that very day, there was a whopping credit-reversal in my late checking account, putting it into the negative for hundreds of dollars. I. Was. PISSED. No scratch that — I *am* pissed, as here I sit on January 9th, 2008 and STILL haven’t gotten my credit back — despite calling Risk Operations and being told “Oh how funny! We received your letter the same day as the credit reversal. Sorry ’bout that. But don’t worry, once they process everything they should reissue the credit to the account.”

And the nightmare continues. I wish I could say that things got better once I set up an account with a credit union named Premier America — I thought that since CUs are non-profit, maybe I’d receive better care — but it only proved to be another fiasco and a total bust. Not nearly as big of a disaster as WaMu — but that story’s for another day.

In the meantime, I have no checking account, no debit card, and am relying on my boyfriend to make credit card payments for me using his account, and I pay him in cash. This is no way to live. If anyone has any awesome banking recommendations, I’d be ever so grateful. I’m specifically seeking free checking w/no minimum balance, and an account that will provide me with some sort of overdraft protection ( i.e. a personal line of credit or something similar), as I’ve previously had bad luck — again, thanks to WaMu — with the vicious NSF punishment-fee spiraling out of control. I was looking into Citibank (they meet those requirements), but how do they perform otherwise? Are they adept? Friendly? Reliable? Any and all help would be greatly appreciated.

Even though you will be taking your business elsewhere, we think it might be worth it to file a formal written complaint with WaMu and then report them to their regulatory agency. Here’s how you do that:

1) Contact WaMu with a formal complaint. You can do this in writing, or by email. Keep a copy of this complaint for your records.

2) Figure out which agency regulates your bank by calling or using FDIC’s Bank Find. We happen to know that Washington Mutual’s primary regulator is the Office of Thrift Supervision.

3) Write a formal complaint letter to the bank’s regulatory agency. Follow the FTC’s instructions for writing a complaint. This document also has the correct contact information for the various regulatory agencies. Keep a copy of this complaint for your records.

By filing a complaint, the regulating agency will investigate whether WaMu’s incompetance actually violated any banking regulations.

Can anyone recommend some checking accounts to Krissy?

(Photo:meghannmarco)