Wednesday, July 1, 2009

So Yesterday Bank of America put my family in physical jeopardy (Part one)

If anyone's curious, there's a condensed version of the following being submitted for publication in print.

And I would like to say the following:


Part one: 7:30am to noon.

I'm not going to get flowery. I have banked with Bank of America for about 10 years. They're convenient for a well-traveled professional. Lots of branches.

Yesterday my wife and son were supposed to be coming home.

For those of you who are here for the first time, my wife and stepson have been in Brazil for the past three weeks, visiting family. I am an American of Irish Descent, like 50% of all Bostonians. My wife is Brazilian, a startlingly beautiful woman both inside and out. I have been fortunate enough to be married to Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife for a little over a year. We have a boy, my stepson, The Boy, aged six. For our first anniversary present, I sent my wife and The Boy down to Brazil to spend time with my mother-in-law, whom my wife hadn't seen in NINE years.

Yeah, I know, we spent our first anniversary apart. Look, I'm a sailor. This is our life. Can you imagine not seeing your mom for nine years? Yeah. I did a good thing, but I couldn't miss work with the new job and all. I'm just lucky to be working.

Yesterday my wife and son were supposed to be coming home.

At 7: 30am, my phone rings. My wife is freaking out. She reserved a ticket locally on a puddlejumper from the regional airport close to her mom's house, to the major airport where she'd begin her journey home. After 3 weeks of happily using her debit card from Bank of America, the card was being declined. No ticket.

I calm her down, and call Bank of America. No, the person says, there is no problem on our end.

I call my wife. She talks to the clerk at the reservation desk. Card is swiped again a few times. Nothing. It comes up "Not Authorized."

I go online. There's plenty of money- about $600 left in her account. Cheers to my wife for staying within our travel budget! The ticket is only about $150 US for she and our son.

Again, I calm her down, and call Bank of America. No, the person says, there is no problem on our end.

"Well" says I, "There's something wrong here." I call Bank of America a THIRD time. This person says that there was a 'block' placed on her account, and promptly transfers me to the wrong department.

I call back. This is my fourth call now. I get a security person. I explain that time is tight, that there's something going on. The woman explains that the access is being blocked for 'suspicious activity' on the card. Suspicious activity? A plane ticket? The third local flight purchased in as many weeks? No. Sorry. BS. For three weeks and two dozen transactions, there have been no problems. Now, when it matters, my wife is left to hang.

Now, I had called Bank of America a week before my family flew to Brazil. I explained what was happening, and the nice girl on the phone had assured me that there would be no problems.

I'm getting nowhere with the woman on the other end of the phone this time. Can I list some recent transactions? No, I can't. I'm not in Brazil, and my wife is at an airport that has a pay phone, by which I mean, you bribe someone to use their phone. She can't call.
Well, I'm told, she can call collect. No, says I, she can't. Our account is held jointly, and I can verify my identity and my wife's in a hundred ways, but considering that I don't know what the exchange rate is for US Dollars and Brazilian Reals, I can't tell the person how much the last attempted sales were for. My wife thought it would be about $200 US, and that, apparently, wasn't the right answer.

I ask to speak to a manager at the security office, and am rebuffed.
Panicked, I jump online again, and, armed with some old information, I proceed to talk my way past the next security specialists' defenses over the course of 30 minutes of back and forth. I explain that my wife is in a dangerous location, that she is not safe where she is, and I just want to make sure that she is safe. I offer to accept any unauthorized transactions. Finally this belligerent, uncaring, completely inhumane individual is convinced that although I don't have the amount of the latest transaction, the fact that I have every other transaction ever recorded is enough to get the block lifted. Now, the problem here is that my wife's flight has already left. It took me over 2 hours to get the block lifted.
It gets better. This was the only flight that day. The airport is now closed. My wife is hustled out onto the street by the airport staff, who proceed to go home and drink their lunch.

So, imagine that you're in the most dangerous subway station in New York at 2 am. Now make it twice that bad. This is the situation that my wife and son are in.

My wife gets on a payphone on a street, and she is in full hysterics. She is waiting for a policeman to keep her company while she gets in touch with family to come get her. She has to bribe the cop to not sexually harass her.

Imagine being in my shoes at this point. Completely helpless. It was a moment I will never forget. And of my family, I was the lucky one.

My wife is able to get back to her mother's house, thanks to a good Samaritan.

Now we have other problems. I have drained my resources to make this trip possible. TAM, the Brazilian airline, has a strict no-refund, no reschedule policy for missed flights (This makes me appreciate the domestic carriers again. Thanks, guys. You still need more legroom, but thanks).

I can't get my wife home. The next available flight for 2 passengers out of Brazil to the US on any carrier is on July 21st, three weeks from now. The cheapest airfare for July and August is about $3000. It is now noon. In four hours, I have to drive to Philadelphia to catch a boat for work. Options are narrowing. I am about $3000 short of what I need to buy that ticket... and my wife has enough money for food for a while, but that's about it, but either way, she and my son are trapped in Brazil. There is going to be no family reunion for a while.

Part 2 of 3 is next: noon- 4pm.


If you're curious, it is now 28 hours since this started. I drove from Boston to Philly during the overnight. I slept 90 minutes drove for 6 hours, and am now on a tug-and-barge unit tied to a dock. My wife is at her mother's house, trying to not lose her business here in the US because she's self-employed and is going to be in Brazil for at least 3 extra weeks, and is hemorrhaging clients. My son had throat surgery scheduled for next week, and I'm trying to reschedule for sometime later this year. The surgeon is booked solid. So my boy is going to miss the first of at least two surgeries necessary for him to speak fully-formed words. Yeah, he's got limited speaking ability, and he was supposed to get the surgery necessary for him to start school in September. Did I mention that? He's pretty pissed off himself. Imagine not being able to tell anyone that you're mad, because only your parents understand what you're saying.

This is the stuff that makes people lose control and do stupid things. Thanks to family and friends, I'm OK, and thanks in no way to Bank of America, my wife is in a safe place while we figure out what to do. Wait until you hear about what Bank of America did to us in the afternoon...


Anonymous said...

Get a "Boston Legal Eagle" Bank of America will pay for the flight plus.

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