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How to win an argument with a bank

Posted Friday, Oct. 12, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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lieber Watchdog is back. Pardon the interruption. Before the break, we were fighting to make things right. So let's get back to work.

My best tip: Here's a website that all members of Watchdog Nation need to remember - ConsumerFinance.gov.

That's the digital home of the year-old U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - the agency regulating banks and other financial businesses more aggressively than they are used to.

Most folks I've sent there have gotten help, rapidly, and in their favor. Recently, I tested the system, too.

Received an e-mail from CitiMortgage. Asked me to rate their customer service. Their promise: "We will send you a $20 check if you qualify and complete the survey."

Looked everywhere for a description of what qualified. Couldn't find it. Didn't like that.

Filled out survey. Waited for $20. Check never arrived. Rather than call CitiMortgage, I galloped straight to ConsumerFinance.gov. Complained that Citi didn't explain what qualified but still grabbed my opinions and information.

Three weeks later, Citi sent me a letter. It was my fault, the letter stated. After I filled out the survey, they sent me an e-mail asking for my address, but I didn't fill it out. Duh. Of course I didn't. Watchdog Nation Rule: Never give personal information in response to an e-mail that appears to come from a bank or financial company. Most of them are frauds.

Still, Citi added: "At this time, a check for $20 has been mailed to your address listed above."

I'm pushing the red button: That was easy.

Here's what I believe is happening: Many businesses, especially big banks, are rolling over and playing dead when it comes to complaints before the new agency. They want to appear to be cooperative and don't want to stir up trouble.

Because of this, the regulatory environment for consumers in financial services is better, probably, than ever. Enjoy it while you can because it may not last.

All of this comes with a steep price for businesses. They say they have to make up for losses. Republicans in Congress are trying to gain oversight of the bureau and remove some of its expanding powers.

At the Star-Telegram, we call this tip refrigerator worthy. You may need this later, so tape the next paragraph someplace for easy reference:

ConsumerFinance.gov.

A happy watchdog

OK, some stuff The Watchdog is happy about:

Happy that Andy Wheeler, an Arlington resident and 24-year veteran police officer, used his noggin before hiring a company to build a sprinkler system.

Wheeler called five companies for estimates, and two came out. He asked the preferred company to produce references, but the owner wouldn't. He also insisted on half the money upfront.

"You can't cheat me," the officer remembers telling himself. He found another company.

"Go with your gut," Wheeler says. "It's usually correct."

Happy that Howell Jones of Forney came to me with a problem about a travel website. He said he tried for months to get $645 back. I gave him Watchdog Nation's second-best tip: Say the magic words.

"Hello, I'm giving you one more chance before I go to the Better Business Bureau, the Texas attorney general and ConsumerFinance.gov." Jones called. Said the words. "Within 30 minutes I had an e-mail confirming the refund of $645," he reports.

Happy that Bob and Betty Burgess finally got their quilt back from a quilter who had stopped answering their calls. Bob makes the patterns and Betty is the piecer. The Fort Worth couple was working on a showpiece quilt. Sometimes you can't put a price on a loss. The quilt is home.

Happy that Verizon customers have until Nov. 15 to sign up to join the class-action lawsuit that would pay customers as much as $40 if they got crammed with third-party billing fees between 2005 and 2012. If interested, do a Google search for Verizon class-action lawsuit in Northern District of California.

Happy that a federal appeals court upheld the Texas Open Meetings Act and told what-were-they-thinking public officials, including one from Hurst and another from Arlington, that the law that forces them to do all of the people's business in public does not somehow infringe on their rights. Please.

And happy that operators at Robson Ranch, a 1,200-home age-restricted community south of Denton, kept their promise. The Watchdog reported how the Ply Gem windows in some new homes couldn't withstand strong Texas super storms. They leaked. One big storm was needed to see whether temporary fixes worked. Robson Ranch officials said that if windows still leaked, they'd replace them.

The rains came. Windows leaked. Robson Ranch was true to its word. Wonderful. That's all it takes.

The Watchdog column appears Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043

Twitter: @davelieber

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