Photo by Mark Cook
BY ALEXANDER WILLIS
Bank of America has issued an apology to Spring Hill resident Benjamin Atria Aguirre following the closure of his checking account amidst allegations of discrimination, saying that it was simply a case of “human error.”
Atria Aguirre noticed on August 29 that his checking account was inaccessible. He was not notified until August 31 that his checking account had been closed, and that a check with the remaining balance had been sent in the mail.
Atria Aguirre’s checking account was fully restored on September 4, however, as it was near the end of the month, the closure caused some difficulties in paying mortgage and bills. Bank of America has said they will cover any late fees Atria Aguirre incurred because of the account closure.
It wasn’t until a friend of Atria Aguirre forwarded him a news article that detailed reports of other Bank of America customers having their accounts closed or frozen after being asked to provide proof of citizenship, that Atria Aguirre suspected that the cause of his account closure might be more than just human error.
Atria Aguirre has been a green card holder in the United States since 2012, after meeting his American-born wife, Sharra Luke, in a business class in his native country of Chile and moving to the United States.
“There have been a lot of reports, many of which have been inaccurate, that have made their way around, but this is nothing to do with that,” said Andy Aldridge, a corporate communications representative for Bank of America. “This was a simple human error.”
Aldridge explained that according to bank records, Atria Aguirre had made two calls to Bank of America on August 23. The first call was to request a transfer of funds from his savings account to his checking account, and the second was to request his savings account be closed.
“It has nothing to do with his nationality, has nothing to do with race or anything else,” Aldridge said. “He called us to try and close his savings account, and it was a mistake. We actually closed his checking account, and when the account was restored was when we realized the error.”
Aldridge said that according to bank records, the check was issued on August 29, and Atria Aguirre had called on August 31 to reopen his checking account. The checking account was restored on September 4.
“We’re very much committed to banking for all, no matter what country you live in,” Aldridge said. “We have a duty and a responsibility – a legal responsibility – to know as much of our customers as much as we possibly can, so that we can look for things like money laundering, or we can look for illegal activity.”
Atria Aguirre and his wife say that this timeline of events does not match with what they experienced.
Luke said that her husband did, in fact, make two calls to Bank of America on August 23, but that the subject matter of the calls differs from accounts reflected by the bank’s records, as relayed by Aldridge.
Luke explained that the first call on August 23, made by Atria Aguirre, was to both transfer funds from their savings account to their checking account, and to close the savings account. Luke said that shortly after this call, they had realized their checking account was also closed. Atria Aguirre immediately called Bank of America back to complain about the closure of their checking account, after which the checking account was fully restored that same day.
So according to Luke, their checking account was closed and reopened on August 23, and then closed a second time with no explanation, which they realized on August 29. Aldridge said this account of events was not what his records reflected, that the checking account was not closed twice, and that none of the two calls made that day were to file a complaint.
Atria Aguirre said that his checking account was indeed closed on August 23, as well as that he had called that day to complain about the closure of his checking account. To prove this, Atria Aguirre called Bank of America customer service on Thursday, September 6, to inquire about both the nature of the calls, and whether or not the account had been closed on August 23.
During the call on Thursday to Bank of America, a customer service representative confirmed that records reflected that Atria Aguirre’s checking account was indeed closed and reopened on August 23, and that Atria Aguirre had filed a complaint about the closure that same day.
When asked to comment on these inconsistencies, Aldridge wrote in an email that he would stand by his last response; “that we [acknowledged] the error, made efforts to fix it [as soon as possible], have offered to make [Mr.] Aguirre whole by paying fees and charges, and that it had nothing to do with his citizenship.”
“Honestly, I’m still not sure,” Atria Aguirre said when asked what he believed to be the true nature of his account closure. “I would like to think it was a human or system error, but why didn’t [they] say so right away, and reopen the account immediately? I called several times to fix this, and it was just not happening… it was really frustrating. There’s a lot of news coverage right now about Bank of America freezing accounts of immigrants, so I think, at the least, it was a very inconvenient time for them to have such poor customer service.”
“We can see that [human error] is definitely a plausible explanation,” Luke said. “It’s believable that maybe somewhere, some button was clicked to have the account closed. It’s interesting to us that none of those reasons or explanations were given to us until, all of a sudden, they have the spotlight on them. Why didn’t they just say that in the first place?”
At the time of writing, Bank of America had fully restored Atria Aguirre’s checking account and said they will cover any of Atria Aguirre’s late fees.