USAA is screwing me over, what can I do?
May 24, 2010 6:45 AM   Subscribe

USAA is screwing me over, what can I do? They've kidnapped my money and while telling me I'll get it back, won't give me anymore information.

Background information. I'm an American living overseas and needed a new bank account. On the recommendations of this site I created an account with USAA and deposited $500. A few days later I was unable to access my account and given this error "For security reasons, your access to usaa.com is currently restricted. Call 1-800-759-8722 for assistance. (2:71) " So I called. I was told that my account application was denied and that my account was under investigation. They refused to give me any more details.

Fast forward 3 months. I've been receiving account statements in the mail, but I didn't know that because I hadn't gotten my mail until recently (I live overseas and have the mail forwarded to me periodically or when I think there is something important there) It appears as if I have an account with USAA with $500 in it.

I just called again. I think this is my 3rd or 4th time calling. I talked to 3 different people. The last one told me the same BS I was told when I called the first time. My account is under investigation for an unknown amount of time. I will be contacted when the investigation is finished. I told her that this was unacceptable. That I wanted to speak to someone else. She said they would just tell me the same things. I was getting pissed. I didn't yell, but I just kept saying no. Give me details. When will I get my money back, I want to speak to someone higher up etc. I left my phone number and she told me someone would call me. I said when today? She said she didn't know and hung up as I was still talking.

Yeah... I'm quite pissed. $500 isn't the world to me, but obviously I want it back and this is wasting a huge amount of my time and patience.

What options do I have. I have an Office of Thrift (Department of Treasury) complaint to sign here. But it just seems like that won't do much, I'll certainly send it, but what else can I do? Should I call and start recording conversations and post them on the internet and try to bring down USAA?

Timeline:
Feb 25 2010 account created
~March 1st account disabled
~March 1st first phone call
~March 18th 2nd phone call
May 24th 3rd phone call
posted by bindasj to Work & Money (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
A friend won a trip to Paris, invited me to go along with her, instead of flying to Paris and back we wanted instead to fly into London, hang a few days with an old friend of mine, take alternate transport to Paris then fly back, shouldn't be a big deal, right?

Wrong.

I called and called and called and called, I kept copious notes of who I spoke to and when and what they said, again and again I was told "No" "No" "No way" "Not going to happen" "This can't be done" "These tickets are set up this way and can't be changed" "Blah blah blah blah" -- a bunch of hogwash.

Every call I insisted that they help me, that they tell me who would help me since they wouldn't, who would they have their sister call if their sister needed this done, on and on. Might have taken twenty calls, maybe thirty, I don't remember, but finally one woman got tired of it and said "Well, I *shouldn't* give you this name and number but..." and I knew I'd hit pay dirt and sure enough, called the number and the woman I spoke with said "Oh, no problem at all, I'll just make this little change here (made the change) and you're all set now. Anything else I can help you with today, Sir?"

People don't want to think. They don't want to do anything "they aren't supposed to do" and they don't usually care enough to help you if/when you're at their mercy. But in my experience they'll mostly get tired, eventually, and they'll come to know that no matter who they try to pawn you off on you've already called them and they said to call someone else and on and on (this is where the notes come in so handy -- they say to call Melvin Laird over in processing and you say "Oh no, I spoke with him yesterday, he said that *you* are the person to speak to") and they will finally begin to think, and try to help you.

USAA says it's an insurance company but in reality it's not but a huge bunch of red tape piled by the roadside there in San Antone, it's an insurance company but it's almost completely staffed and damn sure run by retired military people, they absolutely do not like to question any of their little rules and/or procedures and/or regulations, and like even less anyone else questioning any of it. (I worked as a contract programmer there for six months, I know whereof I speak. A bunch of drones. Man.) You're just going to have to bolt your pants on tight, get determined and get on your phone and not let up on them until they help you, refuse to take no for an answer, insist upon speaking to their supervisor, take notes of every name of every person you speak with and the time you spoke with them and what they said and blah blah blah.

Maybe you won't get help but I'd think you can get this resolved, sorry you're forced to do this for five hundred bucks but it is enough money to make it worth your while, or would be to me anyway.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:26 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Should I call and start recording conversations and post them on the internet and try to bring down USAA?

You think that's gonna work? C'mon.

There's an option for online live help. In your shoes I would try that and say you'd like to resolve this within 72 hours, one way or the other. Get the account live or return your money.

I say this unencumbered by facts or knowledge, but I imagine that you are caught in the uncomfortable intersection of your need and their limitations on what kind of business they can conduct on the phone (for privacy/security reasons). You might consider making THAT the focus of your next interaction with them - you realize they have limitations, but since you're currently overseas that means that paper mail is extremely problematic. What can we do to make this move more promptly.
posted by phearlez at 7:31 AM on May 24, 2010


Oh yeah, if you know anyone with rank in the military, have *them* call, that might help -- USAA is just wacko for rank, they absolutely are run by ex-military people but they still refer to people as General This or Colonel That...
posted by dancestoblue at 7:34 AM on May 24, 2010


Email your story to the Consumerist.
posted by almostmanda at 7:41 AM on May 24, 2010


I've been banking with USAA for over 15 years now. I'll admit I'm military and they address me by my rank, but I've NEVER had anything but positive experiences with them. I'm really blanking as to how you could be receiving such rude treatment.

Instead of waiting for statements in the mail, have you just checked your documents online? They're all there, under 'documents'. (not meant to sound snarky) Have you gone online and tried to see if you can transfer funds out of that account? That's pretty weak, but who knows?

Have you tried calling the main line at 800-531-2265? Maybe you'd get a fresh look at the issue instead of going straight to whomever is at that 'issue' phone number.

Again, it's just really surprising to me as in all the 15 years I've been with them there's never been the slightest problem with ANY of my accounts. I know I'm just one person but (predictably) all my military associates and their families use USAA as well - yours is the first complaint with their service I've ever heard.

I hope it works out.
posted by matty at 8:08 AM on May 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


There is a lot to be said for stepping back and seeing this from USAA's standpoint.

As part of their due-diligence, USAA certainly employs algorithms to detect fraudulent accounts. A new account opened from overseas with a (presumably) US-based address might look suspicious enough to investigate, particularly if there are other aggravating factors (e.g. little or no credit history, not responsive to snail-mail-based queries, physical address is a mail-drop over-represented in frauds, etc). Not knowing their algorithm or your circumstances, I can only guess at what set off their fraud detectors.

But frankly, in a situation where fraud is suspected, the bank probably shouldn't do anything in response to an unauthenticable phone call. As far as they know, you're some guy in Lagos trying to scam their loyal customer bindasj, and their communications protocols are designed accordingly.

It looks like they trust your snail-mail address enough to send statements to it. I would consider sending them a snail-mail letter explaining your situation, asking them to turn on your on-line account management features, and inviting their response to your (presumably trusted) snail-mail address.

Banks have to walk a fine line between user-friendliness and burdensome security. The US banking industry, in my opinion, has leaned way too far in the direction of user-friendliness: their customer identity verification is frequently lax or non-existent, leading to the epidemic of bank fraud which has been misleadingly re-branded as "identity theft." I'd hate to see a bank get pilloried because it's taking what could be quite reasonable anti-fraud steps.
posted by Dimpy at 8:38 AM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Seconding matty; this is totally inconsistent with my experience with USAA.

They do have eligibility criteria for who is allowed to open an account with them; the only thing that comes to mind is that there was some disagreement somewhere along the line as to whether you qualified to hold an account or not. But if the account got opened, it would seem like that should be settled. Unless there was trouble due to the way you were funding the account (i.e. the check bounced or was in some other way irregular) that strikes me as the only reason why something would have gotten hung up.

Assuming you don't actually want the account I guess I'd go onto the website, see if you can now log in, and see if you can transfer the money out and then call them up and just tell them you're closing the account (once the money is out).

But the whole thing just sounds really odd and I have a hard time reconciling it with my experiences with USAA. The only issue I've ever had with their customer service is that, on the banking side, their CSRs really don't have access to any more information than what you can find yourself on the website. If you can log in, I'd definitely look through the Documents area and see if there is any sign of what the problem was.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:54 AM on May 24, 2010


@Kadin2084 and @matty and @phearlez

I cannot login, nor can I use their email system for my problem, since I need to login to do that. I get the following error when I try to login ""For security reasons, your access to usaa.com is currently restricted. Call 1-800-759-8722 for assistance. (2:71) " I've thought about creating a new account for conducting an email conversation, but it seems like that may only confuse the issue if I had 2 accounts in the system.

@Dimpy I totally agree with you, that seems to be what happened. My address is a mail forwarding service in the U.S. I used that U.S. address while signing up abroad. I often have trouble when purchasing/signing up for certain websites/services online, because of this. Usually though services verify my identity through a variety of methods, such as scans of my passport, drivers license, phone calls, sending things to my address.

To the others thanks for your advice. I also just listened to a This American Life episode about a woman being trapped in a situation with a $900 bill she wrongly received from MCI and not escaping until the radio show helped her, so I'm not too hopeful.

I will not completely put down the entire customer service department there. Everyone except for the last person I talked to was beyond polite, but they just didn't know anything. The last woman was rude, unhelpful and well she hung up on me.
posted by bindasj at 9:12 AM on May 24, 2010


They seem to have an active twitter feed that is customer-service oriented. I sent them a tweet with this thread and asked for help. We'll see if that gets things moving for you.

I have never had a problem with their customer service--in fact they have gone out of their way to make things easy for me whenever any issues come up so I find this whole situation kind of shocking. I hope there's a way to resolve this quickly instead of you having to hit your head up against the wall.
posted by Kimberly at 9:24 AM on May 24, 2010


Quick question:

You never answered the question of you meet their eligibility criteria.

Are you active-duty or retired US military, or a military dependent?

Also, members of the reserves, National Guard, and certain US government agencies are also eligible.

The only services USAA offers that do not have those requirements are Investment Banking and Deposit-only accounts.

It may be that they are trying to verify your eligibility, and for those reasons, their usual CSRs cannot help you, for privacy and "ongoing investigation" issues while they validate your eligibility. For people that are just "outright eligible", it's easy, because they can interface with DEERS. For people NOT in DEERS, it takes some time.

I've been a USAA member for eleven years, ad have had nothing but the absolute best customer service of anyone I do business with... and I'm not even an officer.

USAA wins all kinds of customer service awards, every year, and consistently places in the top 5.

Yours is the first complaint I have ever read about...
posted by Master Gunner at 9:46 AM on May 24, 2010


In Bindasj's previous question regarding banking recommendations, one response suggested that USAA has opened their banking eligibility to anyone. I haven't been able to find any information which supports that statement, but that may be what prompted Bindasj to open the account, without regard to whether he meets the standard USAA eligibility requirements. That may also be the reason why the account is under review.
posted by litnerd at 10:01 AM on May 24, 2010


I can't find the exact document that USAA sent to me about the eligibility changes, but I believe that the change did not extend possible membership to everyone. In the past, to be a member you had to be an officer (or family of an officer, etc.). Now, you have to have served in the military (but you didn't have to be an officer). If you tried to get a membership without ever having served in the military, they are probably trying to find a military record. Surely, though, this was asked of you when you signed up? Have you served, or has a family member served?

Seconding everyone who is surprised. I've been a member for a very long time, doing banking, investments, loans, insurance with them and never have had anything less than a superior experience with them.
posted by Houstonian at 10:58 AM on May 24, 2010


Maybe you can attack it from the other end....how did you transfer the money in to this bank account? Perhaps it's possible to reverse the transfer from the other bank.
posted by stellar678 at 11:21 AM on May 24, 2010


USAA Become a Member indicates that "other individuals" are eligible for their checking and savings account products, among others, although certain other offerings remain restricted to active-duty military and shades in between.

I was told that my account application was denied and that my account was under investigation. They refused to give me any more details.

I have no experience with USAA, but at minimum I would expect to be told a deadline for any decision, and be given contact information for the office (or bank officer) involved.
posted by dhartung at 11:21 AM on May 24, 2010


This is what I got in response to my tweet:

"Absolutely, I'll be happy to help. They can shoot an email to socialmedia@usaa.com and I'll have a colleague look into it."

Good luck!
posted by Kimberly at 12:26 PM on May 24, 2010


I don't want to derail but this may relate in a small way.

USAA's basic banking services (checking, savings, credit cards) are currently open to anyone, regardless of military service. That was the case when I first became a member a decade ago, but shortly after I joined they closed membership to non-mil folks.

EXCEPT for folks who lived in a certain zip code proximate to their facility.

The only reason they stayed open to those folks was because of federal regulations that govern a bank's ability to choose its customers. As I recall it exists to prevent bank red-lining and insure that communities are served/not discriminated against. But the point is that they are subject to certain regulations about who they can and cannot service.

It's possible you've fallen into one of those traps - the PATRIOT act requires identity validation. There may be identity aspects to Sarbanes-Oxley (for reporting) as well. That's not an excuse for what sure sounds like a screw-up - I'm merely making the (overly long) point that the eligibility verification may not be about eligibility they have set, but rather that the feds have set.
posted by phearlez at 12:50 PM on May 24, 2010


aaaaaaaaaand I jerked up my first paragraph - they closed to non-mil folks for a while but have re-opened it to the general public again sometime in the last year or so.
posted by phearlez at 12:51 PM on May 24, 2010


I have to say as well that I've been with USAA for twelve years. They have my insurance, I've bought my car through them, and all my banking accounts. I have been overjoyed with every interaction with them. This is honestly the first time I've ever heard a complaint.

Something that you might try is to ask to speak to a manager and just keep escalating if you don't get an effective response. Do this in the middle of the day US time. Don't be rude, but emphasize that you need someone on a level who can give you an answer. You will probably have to escalate at least three times to get to that level.
posted by winna at 4:35 PM on May 24, 2010


I have been with USAA for 55 years. Yes, I have had a few spats with them, a few my fault and a few USAA's fault. I have all my insurance and financial activities with them. Four or five spats over 55 years is a pretty good record for such an institution. I am very pleased with USAA. I hope you can work out your problems with them. The military mind is often a conservative mind. I like that.
posted by psc1860 at 5:51 PM on May 24, 2010


Long time USAA member - not military. I work for a (different) very large insurance company with a banking division. Never had any issue with USAA insurance customer service. That said, the banking divisions are (necessarily) run by a separate set of regulations than the insurance side of the business, and with the Patriot Act, Know Your Customer, anti-money-laundering statutes etc. they are very stringent about details when establishing new accounts.

I suggest you follow up on the Twitter contact above, and if that doesn't pan out, conduct subsequent communications with USAA in writing.

The bank's main address is:

USAA Federal Savings Bank
10750 McDermott Freeway
San Antonio, TX 78288-9876

The President of the bank is David Bohne. You might direct your mail to his attention to get better service.
posted by dudeman at 5:58 PM on May 24, 2010


I'm not a member of the military, but I also found a number of articles supporting that USAA had instated laxer eligibility requirements for checking accounts. Also, I passed their initial eligibility requirements when I signed up, but then failed somewhere else down the line it appears. I honestly answered all questions when they asked if I was a member the military or if my parents were etc.

@Kimberly - Thanks I'll be emailing them shortly, I also got a positive response by posting on their facebook wall.

@winna I was unable to escalate, but I will continue trying when I call again.
posted by bindasj at 6:04 PM on May 24, 2010


If anyone checks back here, I'm optimistically reporting that the problem has been solved thanks to the social media guy. I emailed him my problem and it seems like he got in touch with the right person and my account is now accessible. The question is whether I should keep it or not now...
posted by bindasj at 5:49 PM on May 25, 2010


Further update. My account has been completely unlocked. The woman who is in charge of social media both facebook and twitter was able to get my problem to the right people. My account had been initially flagged, I think they said for identity verification reasons. Then after further review it had been approved, but never unlocked.

So after my problem had gotten to the right person, she was able to lift all the restrictions on my account. I'm also receiving a $100 gift card for my troubles.

I guess all is well now, maybe I can be a happy USAA customer?
posted by bindasj at 7:11 PM on May 25, 2010


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