It seems there’s a grassroots movement going on this week to boycott Bank of America. So far, according to Clark Howard’s website, some $18M worth of accounts there have been withdrawn. Clark Howard, for those who don’t know, is a consumer advocate, and has taken up the call asking BofA customers to back a fellow customer named Matthew Shinnick of San Francisco who earlier this week had a nightmare of an experience at Bank of America with no recourse of action.
Shinnick was arrested, put in jail, and paid $14K out-of-pocket due to the incident because BofA called the police when he tried to verify and cash a check he’d received for $2,000 for a pair of bikes he’d listed on Craigslist. It turned out that the account at BofA was real, but the check was fake. Before signing the check, Shinnick had asked BofA to verify that the funds were available, which they did, but as soon as he signed the back of the check, he unwittingly become not a victim but the second party to the crime. Shinnick has been trying to get BofA to cover the $14K in expenses he paid, but a 2004 Supreme Court case shields institutions from liability when reporting a suspected crime, and legally, BofA has done no wrong.
Shinnick was basically the victim of what’s come to be known as the Nigerian scam. He’d originally listed the bikes for $600 and attracted a buyer from Canada. After some delay, the buyer sent him a check for $2K to cover the delay, shipping costs, and any inconveniences he experienced. Shinnick apparently didn’t think that being sent a check for three times his original asking price was unreasonable.
Personally, warning bells would have popped up in my head, and as an individual, these days I’d never accept a check from a stranger as payment. All that aside, assuming that Shinnick was really just that naive and has essentially found himself fighting a large institution, it’s interesting to me that in this day and age, websites, podcasting, and other media have brought consumers so closely networked that a grassroots movement like this one could even succeed to the extent that it has.
Given that at the end of June 2006, BofA had $184B in cash and cash equivalents, it’s more likely that the media attention rather than the withdrawals will hurt BofA. But I still can’t imagine that 10 years ago, some $18M worth of accounts would have been withdrawn from BofA over the course of a mere few days in support of another consumer.
I don’t have an account at BofA, but if I did, given what happened, I might consider changing to a credit union if the choice of banks arose in the coming few months. (Of course, if I were Mr. Shinnick, I’d certainly bank elsewhere and would be completely furious and frustrated, too.)
The problem is that it’s completely unclear that another bank or financial institution wouldn’t have done the exact same thing to Matthew Shinnick, especially given the current atmosphere and increased regulations that banks now face, like the Bank Secrecy Act. Combine that with the 2004 Supreme Court ruling above, and minor personal catastrophes like Matthew Shinnick’s are bound to happen sooner or later.