Bank Customers Complain Of Call Center Run-Around
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The multi-billion dollar foreclosure settlement that was just signed with the nation's largest banks, also includes new mortgage rules. Consumer advocates have generally applauded those rules. One requirement is for banks to give homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure an assigned contact person to work with. A similar requirement was agreed to in a previous deal with banks, but at least some consumers say they're still running into plenty of trouble reaching someone. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Getting a single person to talk to at the bank is probably a good thing, unless, that is, that person won't actually talk to you.
ANNE MARIE HOSKINSON: Since November 7th, I have left 32 messages for Leslie and her supervisors. I have not received a response.
ARNOLD: That's Anne Marie Hoskinson, who's a teaching fellow at the University of Colorado in Boulder. We first talked to her last month. More than a year ago she lost her old teaching job back in Minnesota where she had bought a house.
HOSKINSON: I put $20,000 down. I expected to be there for a number of years. The job market tanks, state funding for universities, you know, got cut pretty significantly.
ARNOLD: After she got laid off, Hoskinson had to move to another state to find work and eventually she just couldn't afford to rent a place in Colorado and still pay her mortgage back in Minnesota. So she stopped paying her mortgage. She couldn't sell the house for what she owed, so she's been calling Bank of America for more than a year, trying to find a way to just hand the keys back and not have the pipes freeze over the winter. And finally in October, the bank gave her this single person who was supposed to help her do that.
So this single point of contact that you've had, you've called them 32 times and this person, Leslie, has never called you back once?
HOSKINSON: She left me a message on January 5th. Since that time I've left her nine more messages. I haven't heard from her.
ARNOLD: Countless homeowners, for years now, have complained about getting the call center run around. They get ten different answers from ten different bank representatives, documents get lost, and most people calling in are trying to keep their homes. Some who should have qualified for a federal program to avoid foreclosure have actually been improperly rejected and foreclosed on anyway.
So this single point of contact is supposed to help. But in Hoskinson's case, she actually got trapped in a dead end with this contact Leslie, every time she'd call.
HOSKINSON: As soon as I answer my loan number, no matter what number I call, I'm routed to Leslie's voicemail.
ARNOLD: And what if you, sort of, game the system there and don't put in your phone number, just keep putting zeroes in, can you get there?
HOSKINSON: Yeah, sure, I tried that. I called the main number and talked to a real live human being, Peggy, she was really helpful.
ARNOLD: But she says when Peggy tried to transfer her to somebody else the phone system took over, and once again...
HOSKINSON: I ended up back in Leslie's voicemail.
ARNOLD: Bank of America in a statement said that it apologizes to Hoskinson and that this is, quote, "an isolated case and that we are taking appropriate disciplinary action," end quote. After NPR contacted the bank, representatives reached out to Hoskinson and she says she now has a new person she's working with named Kelly, and things are going much better.
HOSKINSON: So far so good, and Kelly at Bank of America has been really phenomenal about coordinating different departments and getting it all taken care of.
ARNOLD: Mike Calhoun is the president of the Center for Responsible Lending. He says fixing problems in bank call centers remains a really important issue.
MIKE CALHOUN: These call centers are the lifeline between families struggling to hold on to their home and these programs designed to give them a fair chance to do that. And when the call centers and the servicing operations break down, the people are left to drown.
ARNOLD: Calhoun says, overall, the single point of contact rules are stronger in the new $25 billion AG settlement. He thinks it has tougher enforcements and a solid list of reforms. The most important reform he says, is that now there's a new federal monitor, in effect, a new foreclosure sheriff in town that will be watching over the banks.
Chris Arnold, NPR News.
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