Down the rabbit hole with Golden 1
July 5, 2012
It’s not a pretty thought, but here goes, just the same: when I heard that an armed thug had handily made off with $4,000 from The Golden 1 Credit Union in SLO in May, I knew a bit of karmic justice had just taken place.
After all, its employees had already robbed me of a great interest rate on my credit card, humiliated me at a favorite grocery store, and nearly got my daughter kicked off of her state health insurance plan. There were, too, the countless sleepless nights, and enough frustration to last a very, very long time.
It all began nearly a year ago.
In our quest to do the right thing, my husband and I decided, just as hundreds of thousands of other Americans had already done, to transfer our money to a not-for-profit credit union. After all, why keep our checking and savings accounts in a gigantic multinational, for-profit bank whose headquarters are in the Netherlands?
Why not transfer to a neighborhood kind of place which offered so many of the advantages of a traditional bank, but with lower interest rates, and, we were told, better customer service?
We picked The Golden 1 Credit Union for a few reasons. We already had a small savings account there, but most important, the SLO location was a terrific geographic fit—literally a one-minute drive to my husband’s job and near our daughter’s school.
All was well for a few months. Then our account was hacked—and we were hurtled down a wicked rabbit hole with no ending.
First, a few checks bounced—including my child’s health insurance premium—and outrageous fees were added to our checking account. We were mystified: we’d had more than enough money to cover those checks, and even if that hadn’t been the case, we had overdraft protection.
What, we asked a manager at the SLO branch, was going on?
I’m not out for revenge, so there’s no point in naming names, but I will say this: from the get-go, this person was completely, utterly incapable of straightening out the bounced checks on her own, much less restoring our overdraft protection. As a matter of fact, it took her nearly one month to realize that we, and others at the SLO branch, had been hacked. (She never actually admitted this to us – it was a teller who spilled those beans.)
Then my primary credit card was blocked. Huh?
Turns out my last payment to that company had also bounced (again, there were funds to cover the fee, but thanks to the hacking, Golden 1’s system didn’t recognize this fact). To rectify this latest mistake, the credit card company told us to make another payment, but this took us a few weeks since, like everyone else we know these days, we live paycheck to paycheck.
However, we were told that Golden 1 could do one little thing to immediately make things right: simply fax the credit card company a short one or two-sentence letter, explaining it was a bank error. My great interest rate would then be restored.
That manager assured us this would be done by the legal department in Sacramento, pronto. She also promised that those pesky, weekend collection calls from Vons would stop. Yup, we’d written a few checks there, they had bounced, too, and now Vons was calling us at home, demanding extra fees. Once again, all Golden 1 had to do was fax a really short letter explaining the error, and we’d be able to write checks at the market again.
Although we were told numerous times, by numerous corporate executives, that the letters had been written and sent, they never were.
By this time, we were no longer making any deposits in our checking or savings account. Not that we could anyway, since our account had been abruptly frozen without our knowing about it until after the fact. Nonetheless, that action didn’t stop the fees from piling up—and it also didn’t stop a nasty letter, direct from Golden 1 corporate, that it was about to report us to a collection agency unless we immediately ponied up several hundred dollars.
Did I mention that in one day’s mail, we also received not one, not two, not three, but four identical form letters expelling us as members from The Golden 1?
As I write this, it has now been almost a year, almost 12 months of many, many new phone calls to Sacramento, including conversations with the President and CEO of Golden 1, who says she is so very sorry. We were able to get all of our money out, although that little exercise took three months. Most recently, she and the CFO “left the office on an emergency” when my husband phoned in for a scheduled conference call to find out why the letters have still not been sent. And now—wait for it—we are still waiting for those letters. To say we are beyond frustrated is an understatement. To say that something smells fishy in Sacramento is also an understatement.
No surprise, we’ve returned to that for-profit bank. Of course, we’ve also closed our accounts at The Golden 1 and will never go back.
It was bad enough that this credit union clearly had no safeguards in place against hacking. But what made it even more crazy-making is this: once the hacking occurred, The Golden 1 clearly didn’t have—and still doesn’t appear to have—any template, no plan at all, for how to deal with pirated accounts… except to run away.
Perhaps other credit unions have protocols. But the eighth largest credit union in the United States behaved, and continues to behave, like a flock of chickens with their heads cut off.
Given our last year, I sincerely hope that The Golden 1 bandit has deposited that $4,000 take in a place where competency—instead of idiocy—rules.
Hilary Grant is an 11-year resident of los Osos.