About a month ago, I started getting mail to my Gmail account from Bank of America that contained a bunch of information about bank account deposits, withdrawals, and balances. Trouble is, it isn’t my bank account; all the emails just say something to the effect of “This is an alert for the account with the last four digits XXXX,” and then tell me to log into my online banking account to see details about the alert. The emails come at the tune of one or two a day, and have nothing in them to indicate how I can let Bank of America know that some accountholder put the wrong email address into their preferences.

Tonight, I called BoA’s online banking customer service department and explained the issue to them. The woman put me on hold for a few minutes, and then came back to tell me that there’s nothing they can do about it, and that I should “just ignore the emails.” I was a little incredulous, and asked if they really don’t have a way to search their database by email address, figure out the accountholder, and contact them to let them know their error, and she said that that was all true — the only way they can search their records is by account number. I asked for her supervisor, who came to the phone and repeated their inability to do anything at all. I reiterated that I had the last four digits of the account number, and she said that there was still nothing they could do. She recommended that I just delete the emails, and hope that the owner of the bank account comes to realize his or her error.

Now, being a database programmer, I know that she’s wrong, and that there’s certainly someone within the BoA system who has the ability to search their database by email address. (For example, if an investigator from the Department of Homeland Security called them and told them that they had intercepted a suspicious email, would they really send the DHS rep packing?) What makes me sad is that they’re just plain unwilling to try. When I explained that we have five accounts with BoA, it didn’t make any difference; when I explained that it was hard to justify continuing to use a bank that was so unwilling to try to do the right thing, it made an equal amount of zero difference. So now I’m forced to resort to reporting the emails to Gmail as spam (which they really are, since they’re unsolicited email that I’ve tried to put a stop to by contacting the originator), and writing a letter to the (un-emailable, un-faxable) escalation department at BoA seeing if anyone there realizes the stupidity of this. And when we eventually leave Boston, we’ll see whether BoA retains our business…


Being a database programmer, you know that. But these people staffing the customer service line don’t. And if some DBA told them they couldn’t search by email, perhaps because of a similar request in the past (heaven forbid a DBA be lazy and obstinate!), they have no way of knowing that’s not the case.

Obviously, like you said, there’s someone, with malice aforethought, who doesn’t want to do the right thing. But I highly doubt you actually talked to that person. I also highly doubt many of BoA’s competitors would be all that sharply different under the same circumstances.

• Posted by: Beth on Oct 28, 2005, 10:22 AM

Try getting to the fraud alert department and say that someone is using a fraudulant email address. Tell them you think it’s suspicious, then maybe your issue will get some attention.

• Posted by: on Oct 28, 2005, 12:05 PM

Are you sure that the message from BoA isn’t really a phishing attempt? Moreover, let’s say that the message is really from BoA to a customer who doesn’t know their own e-mail address — wouldn’t you expect BoA to have account access safegaurds so that even internal employees can’t access the account without rigid constraints on how and why?

Mark Gibbs,

• Posted by: Mark Gibbs on Oct 28, 2005, 9:03 PM

I had the same thought as Mark: a phishing scheme.

That being said, it’s hell when you contact customer or tech support and you *know* something can be done to solve a problem but they are clueless or unwilling to help. I feel your pain but applaud you for going beyond the initial customer support.

Many companies are prone to this type of “silo” thinking. If your issue steps one little step outside their official parameters they won’t touch it.

Once when I was talking to Verizon DSL about a perplexing issue (where I knew enough to know the solution wasn’t what they were proposing) in exasperation asked “Don’t you want to work WITH ME to help me solve this?” He didn’t answer.

To be fair, the problem isn’t with these frontline support people, but with the business rules the company has in place. These frontline people can get in trouble if they help you too much.

I have to laugh whenever I try to conclude a call with Verizon DSL. They are required to state this very long litany (“Thank you for calling Verizon…blah, blah, blah”). It must run a minute or more (when all I want to do is say “goodbye” and hang up). Once I told the man “Don’t say all that. Just say goodbye” but he said it anyway: a requirement. It doesn’t feel good to hang up on someone.

• Posted by: Jeff on Oct 29, 2005, 8:59 AM

I’ve enjoyed reading this thread, and glad to learn that I’m not the only person encountering poor customer service. It seems to be the norm these days! I’m always amazed on that rare occassion that I actually receive good service. I wish more companies were like American Express. They have one of the best customer service departments I’ve dealt with. And no, I’m not affiliated in any way, other than my own personal account.

• Posted by: Pat on Nov 7, 2005, 11:50 PM
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