No, you are not allowed to use your own money. Denied. (photo by Steve Rhodes via Flickr)
This is a tirade directed towards the largest bank holding company in the United States, Bank of America. It is a tale of mind-boggling ineptitude and questionable online security. All we want to do is access our funds to purchase a vehicle in South Africa. In 2011 — the age of the interwebs, globalization and Baja Blast-flavored Mountain Dew — we should be able to transfer money from America’s biggest bank to South Africa’s biggest bank. Right?
Not so much.
We started by establishing the vehicle’s seller as a payee in our Bank of America online account. No problem. Then, we tried to initiate the transfer. Oops, there’s a problem: Any transfer over $1,000 requires enrollment in “Safe Pass.”
OK, that’s cool. We like extra online security. Let’s enroll in Safe Pass.
After several hours online and on the phone with BofA customer service, it was determined that it is not possible to enroll in Safe Pass from outside the United States. Their suggestion? Have “someone in the US” log in as Jenny and try to enroll.
What?!? How is that more secure? Sure, we trust (certain) family and friends — we didn’t think Grandma Chum was a good candidate — with our info, it sort of seems like fraud to have someone else pose as one of us, doesn’t it? Isn’t it, in fact, the exact thing BofA is trying to thwart with Safe Pass?
Of course, none of this worked. We tried everything the customer service reps suggested. My mom’s husband, better known as My Mike, patiently maneuvered his way through the BofA site and dealt with the delays and hiccups inherent in an international conference call. All to no avail. (Actually, that’s not true. He did learn how to send a text message from his phone. Ironically, though, his first-ever text was the word help.)
After ALL of that, here’s the kicker: The customer service rep said he would have to “escalate” the case. Sounds good, I said, what does that mean? Basically, that means we send your case to someone higher up, and they call you in 2-3 business days.
Whatever, we said. Let’s go back to the drawing board and brainstorm some other ideas to pay the seller.
- Travelers Cheques? Huge fees.
- Cash Advance? Huger fees.
- Have someone else wire the money to the seller and pay that person back? A workable idea, but seems unnecessary. Put that idea in the parking lot.
- Western Union? There are no stupid ideas in a brainstorm.
- Pay the seller in $1,000 installments? It would take several days to wire all the installments, and there’s no guarantee that each transfer will be immediate. It could take weeks to complete the sale. But there are no stupid ideas…
- Try this process from the start on Ryan’s account? OK, why didn’t we think of that sooner??
So we tried. “Someone in the US” logged in as me and tried to enroll in Safe Pass. What do you think happened?
Three days, scores of costly internet megabytes and hundreds of cathartic pushups later, we are still in the same boat. Which is to say, we are still not in our new car.
If any of you work for, have sway with or feel like protesting Bank of America, please let us know. Right now, we could use the support. And a lift to the mall.
UPDATE (8:17pm South Africa Time): On a whim, I called BoA customer support again, just to check on the case number and try my luck with a new person. Luckily, I got the very sharp Katie Preston at the call center. She said, “I think there’s a workaround.” She was right. She solved in 3 minutes what others couldn’t solve in 3 days. Now, the transfer is in process, it should be cleared by Wednesday, and we should have our car by Thursday. Good timing, since there’s currently a petrol strike going on in South Africa with no end in sight. Baby steps.