Imagine you get up one day looking to pay your bills or just buy yourself some breakfast, but despite the fact that you have more than sufficient funds in your bank account, you somehow do not have access to your own damn money.
Apparently, that’s what has been happening to Bank of America customers in the past few months, specifically due to questions surrounding their legal status in the U.S.
The Miami Herald, for example, tells the story of Saeed Moshfegh, an Iranian student getting his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Miami, who could not access his money earlier this month. Moshfegh, who has lived in the U.S. for the past seven years and who has recently married a citizen, acknowledged that he had to show proof of legal residency every six months in order to keep his account in good standing—something which he has been doing despite thinking it “onerous.”
However, when he went to his local branch near South Miami to inquire why he could not access his money, he was told that the documents he provided were not accepted and being told by bank officials that he had to provide a different form. Moshfegh says that the bank was in the wrong, as he provided the current form which showed he was a student about to graduate.
“This bank doesn’t know how the immigration system works, so they didn’t accept my document,” he said.
Thanks to all of this, Moshfegh was unable to pay his rent that was due that week, and his credit card payments were rejected.
And Moshfegh isn’t the only one. Last month the Washington Post reported on a Kansas City couple who had been denied access to their accounts after being questioned about their citizenship. According to the Herald, Tennessee native David Lewis also said he was questioned about his citizenship (even after having an account with the bank for 30 years) and was told that if he did not verify his citizenship by filling out a form, his account would be frozen. Lewis decided to go ahead and cancel his account.
“One would think a national bank would be careful about looking stupid after Wells Fargo,” he said, referencing the notorious fallout after Wells Fargo was accused of creating millions of fake accounts, among other issues.
Reports the Herald:
Proof of citizenship is not required to open a bank account in the U.S., according to Stephanie Collins, a spokesperson for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that supervises branch banking. Banks are merely required to identify and report suspicious transactions and maintain and update customer information, she said. Banks have not received any new instructions to collect more information about customers.
When the Herald asked Bank of America about the issue, spokesperson Carla Molina declined to comment on specific changes but insisted that there was no change in how the bank collects information from customers in at least the past 10 years.
However, customers like Moshfegh are not convinced.
“It’s not the business of Bank of America to shut down someone’s account,” he said. “Immigration officers are different from Bank of America—with a bank, I would like to feel respect … [and be treated] how they treat other customers. But they treat me as an alien.”