KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- A KCTV5 News investigation into banking practices by Bank of America hit a nerve with many of you who we’ve heard from since our initial report.
Dozens of viewers have contacted KCTV5 with similar complaints about Bank of America.
This is a heads-up for any Bank of America customer: You might be getting questions about your citizenship status and even have your accounts frozen with no warning.
Customers we’ve spoken with say the bank has frozen their accounts without proper notice, coming as total shock to those customers. Customers later learn, the bank closed those accounts because a customer had not filled out an updated personal information form, which included questions about citizenship.
Jesse Kadekawa Miguel had been a Bank of America customer for more than 20 years with a credit card account.
Miquel contacted KCTV5 after he said his account was suddenly closed. He found out when is card was declined at an auto repair shop.
Before that day, Miguel had recently activated his new card for the same account and remembered there was something slightly different about that automated answering activation recording.
“After they said the card is all set it was already activated - it says important message – ‘Are you a U.S. citizen?’ I have never heard that. This is the very first time. But then when they said (the credit card) is all set, I kind of ignored it,” Miguel said.
Miguel says nothing on the recording indicated he must answer the question.
Miguel also remembered getting a couple mailer forms from the bank, asking for updated personal information.
For the first time, the bank sent him the forms in both Spanish and English.
Miguel questioned whether that had anything to do with the new citizenship questions he says he’s never been ask before by Bank of America. He also figured the bank had all of his most recent personal information and didn’t feel it was mandatory or urgent.
It wasn’t until his card was declined, he realized something was wrong.
When Miguel contacted the bank credit card service line he says he was told the card was closed because he didn’t update his personal information including questions about his citizenship.
“When they start asking me about dual citizenship, that’s when I think ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on?’” he said. “All of a sudden it’s like they don’t trust me anymore, I thought ‘Do I need to scan my naturalization papers to prove I’m a U.S. citizen? Do I need to carry my passport?’ I think they’re just profiling me because of my last name. If my name was ‘Smith’ in Lincoln, NE, would they have targeted me? I don’t know, but it seems like the last name is what kind of triggered that."
Miguel isn’t the only Bank of America customer who has reported account closure problems.
In July, KCTV5 photojournalist Josh Collins told us about his experience receiving a letter from the bank with questions about citizenship he’d never been asked before. He thought it was a scam fishing for his information. Then, a few weeks later the bank froze his accounts. The bank asked for citizenship information before reopening the checking and savings accounts.
“You know, I was born and raised in Kansas, like Superman.” Collins told a bank representative on the phone. “How much more American can you get?”
They agreed to turn his accounts back on the next day, but it never happened. When he called back, the person on the phone said his cards had been reported lost or stolen. Collins says that was not true.
After that initial report, Bank of America customers across the country started reaching out to our investigations team.
Susan Milano lives in Boston, MA. She reached out to share her story in August, telling us how she had been a customer of 30 years when the bank froze her credit card, savings and checking accounts.
“They easily pushed a button and froze my account, yet it took them four to five days to turn back on,” Milano said. “I’m still living with the ramifications of this.”
She’s currently in the process of suing Bank of America in small claims court. But the bank could have bigger questions to answer soon.
Bank of America has repeatedly responded to our KCTV5 investigations, explaining this is not a new policy and the bank is only collecting information as required by law.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri has called on his Congressional colleagues to investigate customer’s complaints.
KCTV5 asked Cleaver whether Bank of America was correct when stating the personal questions, including citizenship was part of personal information collection required by law.
A KCTV5 News investigation into banking practices by Bank of America hit a nerve with many of you who we’ve heard from since our initial report.
“That is a lie," Cleaver responded.
In a statement, Cleaver stated the following:
“I recently became aware of this after hearing reports of people in the area whose bank accounts had been frozen because they did not respond to an inquiry from the bank on their citizenship status. They are interfering with the livelihood of citizens.”
Cleaver says he’s requesting a hearing with the office of the Comptroller of Currency (OCC), Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and other institutions.
KCTV5 reached out to the Comptroller of Currency for their insight. A spokesperson told us they would not comment specifically on Bank of America’s actions, but said you do not have to be a U.S. citizen to have a bank account.
Collins, Milano and Miguel have since left Bank of America, closing all of their accounts.
KCTV5 contacted Bank of America for comment back in July and then again after a previous reports, and they sent the following statement:
"Like all financial institutions, we’re required by law to maintain complete and accurate records for all of our customers and may periodically request information, such as country of citizenship and proof of US residency. This is not unique to Bank of America. This type of outreach is nothing new and the information must be up to date. Therefore we periodically reach out to customers, which is what we did in this case.
Over time, we reach out to all customers to verify their information, not only specific customers. If we don’t hear from a customer in response to our outreach, as a last resort, we may restrict the account until we can confirm it is in compliance with regulatory requirements."Later on Friday, they sent the following updated statement:"Updated statement:
Like all financial institutions, we’re required by law to maintain complete and accurate records for all of our customers and may periodically request information as required by law and regulation. This is not unique to Bank of America. This type of outreach is nothing new and the information must be up to date. Therefore we periodically reach out to customers, which is what we did in this case.
Over time, we reach out to all customers to verify their information, not only specific customers. If we don’t hear from a customer in response to our outreach, as a last resort, we may restrict the account until we can confirm it is in compliance with regulatory requirements."
If you’ve had a similar experience, we want to hear from you. Call the KCTV5 investigations team or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.