Sunday, August 06, 2006

I Swear On My Father's Life That He's Actually Dead

This story reminded me of the hassle we had closing my dad's bank account, which I'll tell you after the jump:

Even dead people can't escape AOL
By David Sheets

Maxine Gauthier doesn't own a computer. She doesn't know the first thing about Web browsing or sending e-mail. She's not even sure where to find a computer's "on" button, as she describes it. Yet for the past nine months, she has been fighting one of the most persistent and some say irritating institutions in cyberspace: AOL, formerly known as America Online. "They just haven't wanted to let go," the 55-year-old St. Louisan said. "I don't think they'll ever really let go." Her struggle has involved about a dozen phone calls often ending with an AOL customer service representative or manager hanging up on her. She even tried impersonating someone else in a couple of the calls. The giant online service provider wouldn't budge. The problem? An AOL account once held by Gauthier's late father still showed billing charges accumulating against it. The account had been dormant for months; the credit card he used for it was inactive at least as long. Nevertheless, AOL kept charging $25.90 each month for dial-up online access. Late fees for non-payment accumulated on the credit card, too. Gauthier even offered to send a copy of her father's obituary as proof he truly was dead. AOL was unmoved....{more about the resolution after a year}. Finally, this month, Gauthier was able to cancel her father's credit card. The AOL charges, going back to last summer, were wiped away, and she was reimbursed for both the charges and late fees. But the story apparently isn't over... A few days ago, Gauthier obtained a letter from AOL that was sent to her mother in Florida. The letter was addressed to Melvin Berkowitz. "Dear Mr. Berkowitz," it said. "We hope you'll come back to AOL."

So my Dad passed away in February, which meant handling all of those business things you have to handle at that time. The most ridiculous was our attempt to close my father's small credit union account. We went to the office in person where we sat in a man's office while he played gangsta rap on the radio as he did that annoying fake "I'm sorry for your loss" business-speak. Whatever, dude. Just close the account. Turns out the Flossie over in Accounts at the office three towns over handles the closing of deceased accounts and we need an original copy of the death certificate, notarized. Fine. We go get that. We come back. Hello Gangsta Dude. Fax this stuff over to Flossie. My mom and I leave the man's office to the tune of "Big Pimpin'." Nice. Four days pass, no word from Flossie. So I call. She says, "yeah, I had the paper here but I didn't know if you wanted me to close it now or after the next deposit cycle." Okay, Flossie, could you have lifted the phone and asked someone? Or are you otherwise busy having your nails done while on the clock? What IS your job if it is not to competently handle the closing of accounts of people no longer living? So I said, "close it now." She said, "I need to speak to the next of kin, which is the deceased's wife." Fine. I put my mom on the phone. We were assured it would be handled in the next 24 hours. Two days later I call to find out why my father's meager savings had not yet been transferred to my mother's account--and do you all know that her rent is due kinda soonish, so can we get on that? More incompetence, more "it's not my job/I don't know/I'll call you back." My mom ended up driving to Flossie's office and sitting at Flossie's desk until Flossie physically closed the account and transferred the money. This a week after her husband of 40 years had died unexpectedly. I was f*&^%ing livid. I called the manager and explained my displeasure at the hoops my grieving mother had to go through to have access to money that was legally hers. Was given assurances that such a thing would never happen again. Felt somewhat mollified, if only because I'd gotten the chance to express my total disgust for their customer service.

Moved on to other business. Forgot about the bank situation, sort of. Until a month later a letter arrived at my mom's place. Addressed to my father. From the credit union. It was a survey asking him to rate the service he had received in his recent transaction.

So, I did what any concerned daughter would do. I filled it out, using clean but If-I-Find-You-I-Will-Kill-You language, correctly filling in the little circles with a #2 pencil, and offering my thoughts on how to improve their customer service. Starting with: don't mail letters to recently deceased people whose accounts your lazy-assed employees have so incompetently, stupidly and finally managed to close just three weeks ago. I'd publish their logo if I wasn't afraid of being sued, but I'll just say instead that they should become the M*d**lant*c Asswipes R Us Federal Credit Union, and save some other families the trouble they gave us.

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