Beyond Robo-Signing: 3 Other Ways Bank of America Is Screwing Americans
Few institutions incite the kind of populist anger that Bank of America does, even as the Occupy movement stokes rage at Wall Street in general. And with good reason - in an industry that is known for being corrupt, immoral, and ungrateful leeches of taxpayer dollars, Bank of America stands out. The bank, it seems, is constantly making headlines for some new form of corruption or act of greed that screws consumers while padding its executives' pockets. And it gets away with it every time.
The bank was at the forefront of the dubious practice known as "robo-signing" - hiring third-party companies staffed by underqualified foreclosure "experts" to cut corners during the foreclosure process, processing thousands upon thousands of foreclosures a month and wreaking havoc on homeowners' lives.
But as outraged as Americans are about robo-signing (and they should be, especially since the big banks continued to use the practice long after they agreed to stop), the use of foreclosure mills doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of Bank of America's dastardly deeds. As Matt Taibbi writes in his devastating piece about Bank of America in this month's Rolling Stone:
[H]ere's how seriously fucked the financial markets are: Even the most vocal critics of Bank of America consider the mass, factory-style production of tens of thousands of fake legal documents per month not that big a deal. "Robo-signing is like focusing on Bernie Madoff's accountant," quips April Charney, a well-known foreclosure lawyer who has spent large chunks of the past two decades in battle with Bank of America.
Robo-signing is not the disease - it's a symptom of Bank of America's entire attitude toward the law.
Indeed, the bank is screwing Americans is so many ways that robo-signing, awful as it is, is but a drop in the bucket. Below are several examples (among many) of how Bank of America is hurting consumers while continuing to dole out plenty of dough in executive bonuses and compensation.
1. Siccing collections agencies on people who are not in debt
Thanks to Bank of America, we now know that there's something more maddening and nightmarish than being hounded by debt collectors: being hounded by debt collectors when you don't owe anything.
A la their infamous illegal foreclosure problem, big banks are in the practice hiring third-party companies to handle debt collection for them. That would be all fine and well if the banks took care to pass on accurate documentation about their customers. But they don't. American Banker reports this week on a woman named Karen Stevens, who's spent the past three years fighting off a collection agency that Bank of America hired to collect $1,900 in debt - debt that Stevens has long since paid off. Stevens was only able to put an end to the fiasco by hiring a lawyer and suing the collection agency.
Stevens' case appears to be an example of what happens when banks sell batches of accounts without sufficiently scrubbing them of errors and discrepancies ( see related story). Such oversights are drawing into collections quagmires an unknown number of consumers who owe nothing, or for whom debt records are incomplete or nonexistent. For banks, it's a problem that threatens to spark a legal or regulatory backlash or to do further damage to already tarnished reputations.
Aside from getting this work (messily) off their plates, the advantage for Bank of America in doing business this way is that they don't have to deal with their clients' lawsuits when they get screwed over. Blame it on the third-party guy!