Bank of America Declares Living Customer Dead, and Other Bank Oopsies

By
BofA's debit card fee also a bad idea. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/2011 Getty Images

One of the silliest things the big banks have done in these populist days of Occupy Wall Street and "vulture capitalist" rhetoric is to forget to check little things, like whether or not someone has actually defaulted on their mortgage before foreclosing on them (or whether you, the bank, even own the deed to the house in question), or if a client is dead before you so inform the credit-rating agencies. The latter is exactly what happened to South Carolina resident Arthur Livingston, who Bank of America unilaterally decided had been dead since May 2009. Mr. Livingston is, in fact, very much alive, but very much unable to get a mortgage for the new home he plans to build.

Such clerical errors may be just that — a mischecked box somewhere along the paper trail — but they nevertheless make the banks look like they don't care about real people. Another far-too-frequent example is families wrongfully foreclosed upon — a quick news search turns up cases in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, and Fort Worth, Texas, both involving Bank of America. A Naples, Florida, couple famously turned the tables by foreclosing on a BofA branch after the bank erroneously started foreclosure proceedings on their paid-off home. A recent $26 billion settlement that banks agreed to pay homeowners stems in part from this sloppy (and traumatizing) practice.

Of course, Bank of America isn't the only guilty party — other banks, such as JPMorgan Chase, have apologized for their role in the so-called "wrongful lockouts." But it can't be mere coincidence that the first thing that pops up when you Google "accidental foreclosure" is a BofA foreclosure help page.