Ally Bank Debits Account Before Customer Verifies That It's Hers

Sometimes a company verifies that a bank account by making a couple of small deposits in it, then asking you to report back the deposit amounts. Don’t rely on that verification process to block any activity in the meantime, though. That’s what Suzette did with Ally bank, and she ended up with a $35 stop payment fee from her own bank.

Here’s her story:

I recently decided to open an online savings account with Ally Bank. Seemed simple enough to open but I made a mistake when putting in the account number to withdraw the initial funds from. I used my checking account rather than the savings account.

Luckily, I discovered this right away and went back in to Ally Bank online to remove the checking and add the savings account. I figured that there should be no problem, as they verify your account by making two small deposits. You then verify the amounts so they know that it is the correct account. According to them, this would take 3 – 5 days. My thinking was that when I did not verify the amounts, they would know that it was not the correct account, and would therefore not attempt to withdraw the money.

As it turns out, they did indeed make the two small deposits followed immediately by a withdrawal of $4000. This was on Thursday 11/5. On Friday, 11/6, my regular bank called me. They informed me that there was a large withdrawal ($4k) from my account and since I was a good longtime customer they wanted to see what they should do since my OD protection limit is $2500. I explained to the bank what happened and she suggested that the check be returned or else Ally would continue to attempt the withdrawal. Made sense to me so I asked her to please return the withdrawal. A few hours later, I looked at my bank account and saw the withdrawal plus 4 NSF fees, which my bank did reverse.

In the meantime, I called Ally to let them know what happened and asked why they did the withdrawal right away. They could not sufficiently explain this to me. Something about how some customers want to have their withdrawals available immediately. Now they don’t know me, have never done business with me. I could have used anybody’s account and they would go right ahead and withdraw money on my say-so? This makes no sense. The lady at Ally said that she would take care of making sure my checking account was removed and verified that I wanted the withdrawal to come from my savings.

On Monday, 11/9, I see that my bank has now charged me $35 to return the item to Ally. I called them to explain yet again the issue and how Ally just went ahead and made that withdrawal without even verifying that was my account. The bank said it was a valid charge and they would not refund that to me since it was Ally’s mistake. OK, I figured that they did reverse the 4 NSF fees ($35 each) and it really wasn’t their fault. So I called Ally, explained the situation again and asked them to refund me the $35. They refused.

I admit that I made the mistake of putting in my checking account number rather than my savings. In my defense, I did not think that they would actually try to withdraw that money without first verifying that it was my account. Should this cost me $35? Should I attempt an EECB? If so, do you have the info for Ally Bank?

In hindsight it’s easy to say that Suzette should have contacted Ally immediately to correct the problem instead of assuming it would resolve itself as long as she didn’t complete the verification process, but honestly I would have probably made the same mistake. Like Suzette, I always assumed any linked bank account was off limits until you followed through on your side of the verification process, and apparently that’s not the case. I asked an Ally rep how verification worked and got a response similar to Suzette’s: “During your initial funding of your account we allow an unverified transfer to be processed to speed up the funding of the account, as well as to make sure that you receive the current rates.”

I don’t know what sort of information was disclosed to you when you set up the transfer, Suzette—if there was some indication that it would happen immediately, as a separate activity from your verification, then I’d put this down as an expensive lesson (although hopefully one the rest of us can learn from). But if you think Ally should have made the process clearer, you can write them a letter. I would focus on the fact that you didn’t know the transfer would happen immediately (again, assuming that’s the truth). Remember that since it’s your other bank that charged you the $35, you may find it hard to get anything out of Ally, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Here’s the physical address I found for Ally; you may have better luck getting a thoughtful response from here than from the online customer service email form.

Ally Bank (formerly GMAC Bank)
6985 Union Park Ctr #435
Midvale UT 84047
801-790-5070 or 801-790-5000

President and CEO: Mark B. Hales
Chief Marketing Officer, GMAC Financial Services: Sanjay Gupta

On a tangentially related note, I want to mention that Ally’s customer service was one of the best online chat experiences I’ve had with a company. The CSR who helped me appeared almost immediately, his reponses were well-written and came quickly, and there was none of that insulting and infuriating nonsense where the CSR repeats your phrases back to you, or stalls for time by telling you he will be happy to help you with that over and over. I also noticed Ally lists the current call wait time at the top of every page on its website. None of this has anything to do with Suzette’s problem, but I just feel it’s worth pointing out when a company offers good customer service response time and transparency.

Update: Suzette wrote back:

Within minutes of you posting my story, I received a call from Ally Bank’s Executive resolution department. In addition to emailing you, I had also figured out the emails of several executives at Ally and emailed them. The lady I spoke to was very apologetic and explained that apparently there is somewhere on their online form to have the funds immediately withdrawn from the account. I do not recall this at all and maintain that even if that is the case, what would have happened if I had put in someone else’s account number by mistake? This seems very unsafe. In any case, my complaint was not the first and they are taking steps to fix this on their online form. They are also refunding me the $35 return item fee. Thank you so much for your help!

Update #2: Another Ally customer, Kristie, wrote in to provide more information on the verification process. She says that when she opened an account, the “instant transaction” that funds the account and the link verification that connects other accounts happen at different stages:

Suzette raised the question of what would happen if she used someone else’s account number by mistake. I thought I would answer the question since it happened to me.

I opened an Ally account at the end of October. Ally is right in that somewhere in the application process, it does tell you that they will deduct the initial funding money right away. After that process you then have the option to link external accounts – not before. It’s two separate processes.

To answer Suzette’s question, I transposed two numbers of my bank account. Ally requested the money from Bank of America, and it was initially “funded.” Kind of like when you deposit a check, it’s there, but it’s not REALLY there for awhile. Bank of America then denied the transaction because the account information didn’t match up. An Ally CSR called me to let me know and I fixed my account information over the phone. The second time it went through without a hitch. I had no fees, by the way.

There were disclosures about their processes, but they may not have been as clear as they could be. They’re there somewhere because I know I read them! There are also checks within all banks to make sure that the account matches the name and information of the customer.

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