Last week I received, from Verizon, a CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT NOTICE. A surprise windfall? No, it’s an invitation to settle a claim I might have against my telephone company because “You were billed for Third-Party Charges between April 27, 2005 and February 28, 2012 and may be entitled to Payment from this Class Action settlement.”
How much will I get for Verizon ripping me off month after month for about 84 months? $40.00 if I sign up right away. “You may have a claim for hundreds of dollars; go to website to get a Claim Form.” I have done that, printed out 14 pages of instructions and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Should I now spend time to fill out the Claim by perhaps going over seven years of Verizon invoices (that have long ago have been converted to cardboard or are in a landfill) and wait an indeterminate time for a check of unknown size?
Cripes! Give me a break!
Last week my family closed a bank account with Citizens Bank, owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and another account with Bank of America. The latter account we had for at least forty years, first opened with Arlington Trust Company that later merged into BayBank, which then was gobbled up by BankBoston (founded in 1792), and later swallowed by FleetBank, that then merged with Bank of America which really was North Carolina National Bank until it acquired Sovran Bank to turn into NationsBank and in 1998 into Bank of America after snapping up a California bank that had been founded in 1904 in San Francisco by an Italian immigrant, Amadeo Giannini, as the Bank of Italy, renamed in 1930 Bank of America, a moniker that suggests a granite-like foundation and unquestioned integrity.
Why are we saying goodbye to banks with such illustrious genomes? Because they were in the news for having settled with the US Department of Justice to return to depositors $137.5 million (Citizens Bank) and
$410 million (Bank of America) in fees extracted from account holders for overdrafts supposedly incurred. “Supposedly” because these banks used software that cleverly maximized the likelihood of overdrafts by sequencing depositors’ checks presented by merchants for payment. Software to rip off depositors? How low can they get?
Citizens and BofA are not the sole offenders. In one recent year the nation’s banks “earned” $37 billion from billing depositors’ fees for overdrafts (some justifiably, a unknown portion just plain rip-offs.)
Just a few years back, US banks threw the country into the gravest economic crisis since 1930, and in 2008 they accepted around $350 billion in government bailout money that kept a slew of them from going under like Lehman Brothers, or from forced sale like Bear, Stearns. One Wall Street insurance giant, AIG, over the duration of the crisis got around $180 billion in bailout cash. Now that US taxpayer funds enabled scores of banks to emerge from intensive care many of them have taken to systematically ripping off their depositors.
Have these outfits no shame?