Saturday, July 14, 2012

Banking on America

When we read in the news about the abuses inflicted on Iranian or Syrian protesters, Americans shake their heads in a gesture of concern and pity. But how many Americans actually take to the streets in defense of their own interests? Not so many.

A couple of days ago, I was visiting a shopping plaza that included a branch of the Bank of America. In an adjacent parking lot, I saw a car with this entertaining sign:


A woman in her early thirties was seated in the driver’s seat, so I stopped to talk to her.

She told me that she and her husband subscribed to a gasoline company’s “reward points” program. When you earn a certain number of points, you can buy up to 20 gallons at a discounted rate. The husband had earned the points, so he swiped his Bank of America ATM card, and pumped 20 gallons. What he didn’t realize was that the transaction exceeded his checking balance at Bank of America by a whopping 38 cents. Bank of America automatically charged the account $35 in response. Still unaware of his transgression, the husband topped off the tank, which constituted a separate transaction on the already overdrawn account, triggering another $35 charge.

She and her husband have been customers of Bank of America for 15 years with no previous overdrafts, but the bank refused to rescind the $70 charges.

When telling me this story, I was struck by two things: First, she was calm and reasonable. Second, she’s Scottish (but has become a naturalized American citizen).

She was quite well aware of the rights granted to citizens of this country, so she made the sign and drove to the bank. She had been there every day for seven days. The bank, apparently unaware of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the country for which they are named, called the police. Twice.

She’s not on their property; she’s not causing a disturbance or impeding commerce. The police told the bank that there is nothing that they can do, and left. The second time the bank called, the police told them not to call again. If anyone wants to rob that Bank of America, now is a good time.