Why is Bank of America so often behind harassing debt collection calls that are just wrong?
Harassed by Bank of America, even after the bank apologized and paid their initial legal fees: James and Sharon Bullington of New Port Richey (above) sued BofA for harassment this fall after resolving a debt matter only to have the bank's debt collectors continue to call making demands. (Photo: Tampa Bay Times, Brendan Fitterer) Read Times reporter Mark Puente's stories here and here.
Wake up and good morning. Why is it that so many stories of banks harassing Florida customers -- excessively or just by error -- end up involving Bank of America? This bank, already fighting a poor reputation, needs to get its act together, pronto.
The latest BofA blunder is the tale of Cape Coral's Linda Long. As reported this week in the Wall Street Journal, Bank of America and a debt collector it hired to go after deceased customers' debts violated state law by repeatedly calling Long about paying the credit-card bill of her late husband. Judge Keith R. Kyle in Lee County ruled this month that collection attempts by West Asset Management, an Omaha, Neb., firm working on behalf of Bank of America, amounted to harassment. West Management, in turn, is owned by West Corp.
According to the Journal, this case could set a precedent across the U.S. and "discourage lenders from using collectors to get money from surviving relatives on debts left behind by the deceased," according to other state-court judges. Bank of America and other major U.S. lenders hand over accounts of the deceased to firms specializing in death-debt collection.
Here's the key point: The collection firms then zero in on family members who they think might agree to pay some of what the dead person owed even though they have no legal obligation to do so.
What's so compelling about Long's case is that you can actually listen to some of the telephone calls to Long made by West Management. Even though the caller says in one call that Long is under no obligation to pay off her late husband's $16,600 credit card bill (she would have had to co-sign that credit card to be responsible), the debt collector simply bulldozes ahead. He asks Long if she has any money or even life insurance policies to pay back some of the debt, even as Long says she has next to nothing. Her husband left no estate.
Long had sold the couple's motor home to help cover medical bills and funeral costs. All that was left, she said, was $2,000 in life-insurance proceeds.
The Fox TV station in Orlando in November did a great story on Long, who hired Morgan and Morgan lawyers to help get West Management and Bank of America off her back. Listen and watch this Fox segment to hear to phone calls from West Management. They were obtained after Morgan and Morgan sued the debt collectors and Bank of America, which then supplied copies of the audio tape. A Dec. 3 Wall Street Journal story also offer links to audio tapes of calls to Long.
Surely Bank of America can do better than this.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times, soon to become the Tampa Bay Times