Citibank Demands That Hearing-Impaired Customer Call Them, Hangs Up When She Does

Kerry has lost her hearing as an adult, and you can’t call her on the phone. This seems pretty self-explanatory, but apparently it isn’t. At least not to Citibank. They want Kerry to call them to verify a suspicious transaction, but hang up on her whenever she calls.

With other banks, she’s been able to verify transactions through the Web interface, but this isn’t the case with Citi. Kerry tried to call using a TTY relay service. A TTY (also known as a TDD or text telephone) is a device that people with hearing or speech disabilities use to communicate over standard phone lines. They haven’t changed much since the 1980s, but are still in common use. It has a keyboard, a small screen, and sometimes a printer. TTY machine users can call each other, or they can dial in to government-funded relay services, where a hearing person in yet another call center acts as an intermediary between the parties. This system is effective, but can be kind of slow.

“Using a relay service is slower than making a regular call, and I think those agents are timed and rated based on the amount of time it takes to make the call,” Kerry writes. “Even so, I don’t think I’ve ever been hung up on by thirteen in a row.” This happens a lot: call center representatives are caught between the legitimate excuse of fraud prevention and the ever-present need to keep their call times down. I worked as a relay operator a decade ago, and while the fraud situation is better than it was, call times are still an issue.

Some companies have a policy of not accepting relay calls at all, due to abuse of a system intended for Americans with disabilities by West African crimesters. This isn’t the first time that a reader has reported being repeatedly hung up on when calling their bank using a relay service. There’s a way to access relay through the Web that’s open for anyone to use, whether they’re in a library computer lab in Minnesota or an Internet cafe in Nigeria.

Anyway, back to Kerry: in the space of a few days, she tried thirteen times to get through to Citi and verify her transaction. Each time, they hung up on her. Was this an official policy, or customer service representatives dodging a call that might make them look bad?

She messaged Citi in desperation, and they sent back a fraud number that they claimed could receive relay calls. Great! She called, and… was hung up on again. The second person she spoke to asked for her checking account number for verification purposes. Her checking account that isn’t with Citi. “When I asked why he’d need my non-Citi checking account number, he said it was because they couldn’t reach me via phone,” Kerry writes. “I pointed out that I am hearing-impaired and don’t have a phone, so that’s why he couldn’t reach me that way. I also asked how he’d know he was speaking to me, since he’d only hear a human female voice. It could be anyone.”

He hung up on her.

“If I had a random stranger call them with a human female voice, I wouldn’t need to provide this, because somehow Citibank thinks that phones are magic and no bad guys could ever use them,” she complained to Consumerist. “I sure am sick of being punished by this one company because they find my disability distasteful.” Yes, she could have a friend or relative call them up with the information, but the entire point of the Americans with Disabilities Act is that she shouldn’t have to.

We contacted Citi’s social media outreach team, and referred them to Kerry. They assure us that hanging up on hearing-impaired customers is not an official company policy.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. After you contacted us, we immediately reached out to [Kerry] and have resolved her account issue. We have apologized to [Kerry] for the treatment she experienced, it is entirely inconsistent with our standards and policies, and we deeply regret the inconvenience caused. At the same time, we are reiterating our standards for servicing accounts of the hearing impaired to our service representatives.

Kerry reports that Citi’s social media team straightened out her suspicious transaction, which was the entire point here. We hope that the message does get through to front-line workers. The question is, was it misinformed CSRs who caused Kerry’s problems, or are workers supposed to keep their call times so low that they can’t afford to take a relay call?

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