Lost WAMU accounts and dead-end customer service
November 20, 2009 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Washington Mutual lost $2,400 of my money (NOT counting 12+ years of accumulated interest). The customer service rep hung up on me when I tried to figure out how to get it back. What to do next?

Long story, please bear with me because I could use some guidance and encouragement!

I just stumbled across a couple of forgotten account booklets from 1997 and 1991 (last booklet entry 1996). 1997 was a cd opened with $2k for 6.25%, somehow forgotten in the shuffle of moving out of state to college. 1991 was a gift from my grandparents - both now deceased - for about $400. Of course my first reaction upon finding these was "ooh! Free money!"

I called up the original bank, Home Savings of America, but their CA accounts had been long since bought by Washington Mutual. My phone conversation with WAMU was NOT productive: the customer service rep hung up on me. Read my blog entry here for the full story about THAT fiasco.

(I should insert here that my father's name was also on the (joint) $2000 account and that his address has remained the same for 25 years. He received NO notice of funds ever being turned over to the state - and he is GOOD about reading and filing all his bank mail.)

(Also, the account from my grandparents is not joint, but does have my name in the title, "xxx and xxx as co trustees for GardenGal." Since they are both deceased, shouldn't the account automatically turn over to me?)

And now Washington Mutual has become Chase. How in tarnation am I going to be able to track down these ancient accounts through 3 changes of bank ownership? Needless to say I could really use the money; we have a toddler and we just bought a house for crying out loud.

But what do I do? I'm pretty sure the bank manager at a local Chase branch will give me the same dead-end treatment.

And how much do I ask for? The $2000 from 1997 was put in a CD to mature in 2000, at an interest rate of 6.25. The other booklet from 1991 (last entry 1996), with $400, was in a regular savings account with a fluctuating interest rate of between 3.5 and 2.5%. What's that supposed to total?

Or should I just ask for the balance, sans interest? Because what about the monthly bank fees? Once the cd had matured, it was supposed to become a regular account, and I have no idea how much monthly bank fees would have been, but over 9 years after maturation (6/2000-11/2009) would they have completely eaten up the principal? Should I count my blessings if they're willing to give me the initial money at all, and take just the smaller amount?

My husband thinks I should be willing to take them to small claims court, but surely there are steps in between.... and how on earth would I take Chase Bank to court?!

I feel like I have to pursue this because hey, that's a whole mortgage payment there, but I'm embarrassed that I forgot the accounts in the first place and I feel that this is all my fault. Any bankers out there with experience in who I should talk to, when WAMU blew me off and Chase is notorious for bad customer service?
posted by GardenGal to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
(1) What state were your accounts domiciled in?

(2) Read up on escheat and contact a lawyer familiar with its particulars for your state.
posted by dfriedman at 7:44 AM on November 20, 2009

Have you checked your state's unclaimed property database?
posted by something something at 7:46 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

So the link I give above focuses more on the history of escheat than what's applicable to you. Each state has a department tasked with returning unclaimed (financial) property to its owners. See, for example, Delaware's.

Find the similar department for whatever state your accounts were domiciled in and go from there.
posted by dfriedman at 7:47 AM on November 20, 2009

The bank was following the escheat laws of the state where the deposit was made. They did their job, and now your job is to get the money back from the state. WAMU cannot help you. Find the state office that deals with this sort of thing, and determine what forms to fill out and what evidence you need. Your CD should be enough.

No lawyers should be needed for this type of transaction.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 7:49 AM on November 20, 2009

Kinda old, but Consumerist has some contact info for Chase Executive Customer Service.
posted by brandman at 8:16 AM on November 20, 2009

It sounds like you're just assuming Chase won't. Have you tried?
posted by WCityMike at 8:24 AM on November 20, 2009

Run your name through the California Unclaimed Property database? (You said CA, so I assumed Cali. Feel free to correct me)
posted by deezil at 8:29 AM on November 20, 2009

WaMu may not even have ever had the 1991 account. The funds might have been forfeited to the state before they integrated Home Savings of America accounts into their system.

I held a dormant WaMu account from 2000–2008. There was zero activity in this account during this time. Every 30 months or so they would send me a letter saying (paraphrased), "hey, do you still want this account to be open? If not, we're legally required to hand the money over to the state!" I would say yes. I also had to let them know about changes of address so they would keep doing this.

In the future, you can probably avoid further "dead-end customer service" experiences by treating customer service representatives with respect. In your blog post you said the first representative you talked to "sounded stupid" and the second one was "just as -ahem- challenged as the first lady." People can tell when they are being talked down to, and it doesn't predispose them to help you. Your description of the supervisor sound exactly like someone who has chosen not to do anything extra to help you, and this might be why.
posted by grouse at 9:11 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Another vote for escheating (unclaimed property) -- I had a CD from about when my parents divorced (1983) that had gotten lost in the tumult of the year. Found out about it a couple of years back, hit up the state unclaimed property db, got money back (sans interest. Interest shuts off when your $$ hits unclaimed property) and Everybody's Happy. Give it a whirl.

ALSO, check unclaimed property database for misspelled names or incorrect-but-similar town. My $$ was listed as belonging to someone of my name (uncommon) in "Bradford" instead of someone of my name in "Breezewood".
posted by which_chick at 10:48 AM on November 20, 2009

Hello. for a long time, I was the person on the phone that you think is an idiot. I'm not gong to start some kind of a pileon about treating CSRs like shit because that doesn't really answer your question. However, I will say that if you treat people like me like crap, we're probably not going to go above and beyond to help you either. A lot of the times in situations like this, they really can't do much for you.

In calling their 800 number and punching in random numbers to get to a marginally related department, you're most likely not even dealing with people who have the capability within their system to help you. This is mostly because you're not speaking to the correct people, and this is also due to the age of your accounts. Banks only have to keep closed and dormant accounts in their system for a certain period of time and no matter how stupid you think these people are, they did not program the system and are limited to working with whatever information actually resides in it.

No matter how entitled you feel to this money, the CSRs you've spoken to are following actual regulatory laws that forbid them from disclosing information about the accounts without any proper documentation. If you were an active customer and had signature cards on file that showed you have access to the accounts, then they could. This is actually for your protection. Do you want any stranger to be able to call your bank claiming to be the trustee or joint account holder and then withdrawing all of your money? Remember that they don't have any information about the documents you're holding in your hand and the accounts are too old to be in their system, and therefore they cannot verify your identity in relation to the accounts.

Since the accounts are over 10 years old, you'll probably want to check the unclaimed property database for your state here first like a lot of people have mentioned. Do that before you do much of anything else.

If you don't find anything in the unclaimed property records, this is a good example of a time where you should actually go to a bank branch in person. That way, they can actually look at your documentation and tell you what you need to do. That is the person who will probably have the resources available to help you. Be nice to them and you'll probably get it all straightened out.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 11:03 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Also, try making an appointment and going in to the bank physically, so you can speak face to face with someone. (not just at the teller window, but an actual sit down)
posted by Vaike at 11:08 AM on November 20, 2009

dfriedman : they were in California. Thanks for the link to escheat.

something something and deezil: yes I did check the unclaimed property website for CA, and there's nothing under my name.

Midnight Skulker : That's part of the problem. The bank WASN'T following the rules for turning property over to the state. They never turned over the funds, they just disappeared. There is no record of them ever having existed, closed, turned over, or not.

brandman: Thanks, maybe I'll try their customer service.

grouse and howrobotsaremade : please don't assume that I was rude to the customer service reps. I despise people who are and I make a point to ALWAYS be that nice, friendly person on the phone so that they can say "well, at least that was a nice call" even if it turns out they can't help me. In return, I usually get along fine with the reps and receive good service - they at least tell me when they can't help me, and offer ideas of other departments or numbers to contact. I don't "talk down" to anybody, ever. I am not a snob.

This experience was out of the ordinary and I wish you would just believe that the reps treated me off the bat with unprofessional apathy. I was, as always, polite and friendly, and kept apologizing that these are from so long ago, that I had to call the wrong department first, etc. (The first lady did transfer me to the correct department - customer service - so that wasn't the issue.)

I wrote the blog post when I was extraordinarily frustrated, and that probably translated into the tone and tactlessness. But keep in mind that I became that frustrated only after they refused to help me, kept forgetting what we were talking about, and when they couldn't help me were unforthcoming with ideas for other options to pursue the matter. Trying to get information from them was like pulling teeth.

I understand that the reps might not have had access in their computers, but I would think that their *manager* would be able to a) tell me where to go next, and b) not hang up on me.
posted by GardenGal at 11:26 AM on November 20, 2009

howrobotsaremade: Thanks for the bank branch tip. Anyone in particular I should ask for? The manager? Or just anyone?
posted by GardenGal at 11:32 AM on November 20, 2009

Thought I should clarify. There's nothing on the CA unclaimed property website for either my & my father's last name and first initials and just our last name with no initial attached. I made the search so wide it included every city in California, but nothing.
posted by GardenGal at 11:35 AM on November 20, 2009

Sorry if I implied that you were rude to the people you spoke to on the phone. I get a little heated up about that after years of speaking to customers who assumed I was stupid because I didn't have what was often very obscure information.

What I would suggest is just gathering every piece of documentation that you have related to the accounts and just taking it to Chase. Do they have a main branch somewhere near you? The branch manager or one of the front desk CSRs would be a good starting point. If it's a busy office, you might want to look up the local phone number and see if you can make an appointment to stop by so you don't have to wait for hours.

The reason for actually going there in person is that you can have someone look at the account paperwork. I hope you have the account agreements in with your information because that would make things a lot easier. You want someone who has a bit of authority to either pay out the accounts, or to find someone who can.

Be forewarned that they might not be able to do it immediately. If these are joint accounts (or trust), then you will probably have to get a signature from the other person on the account. If they're deceased, you'll need death certificates. They might even have to send it off to be researched and it might take a while, because hard copies of your records are probably boxed up in some warehouse somewhere. But if it's not in the system, there have to be some paper records that exist. I can't tell you what happened to the interest that might have accrued, because all of that would be per the account agreement.

If you can't get any help from the bank in person, that's when you would have to take it to small claims court. But hopefully you don't have to do that. They're usually much more helpful actual people are when you're sitting right in front of them.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 11:56 AM on November 20, 2009

There are a lot of factors here and a lot of ways to navigate through the system to find the money. Send me an MeFi email and I'll ask you some more detailed questions and point you in the right direction. (Bank Manager, but not for the above-named banks).
posted by cyniczny at 9:42 PM on November 20, 2009

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