The following is a true story. Names have not been changed because there are no innocent people in this story that need protecting.
When filing for unemployment in Oregon, one is required (yes, required) to take part in a debit card program whereby your unemployment check is automatically credited to said debit account. This little debit card is called the "Relia Card". The bank the card is connected with U.S. Bank.
One does have the choice of opting out of the Relia Card program, but only after your information has been sent to U.S. Bank and the account and card set up, all awaiting your move to activate it. Many folks, myself included, are not able to opt out of the program prior to the first check being deposited, which is due to a time issue on the part of the employment department. That means you now have the frustrating responsibility of having to remember a new PIN number and draining the account.
Well, that proved to be too much of a hassle for yours truly, so I tried closing out the account when it had a $2.77 balance. I called up U.S. Bank, Relia Card division, and tried to get that done. No can do, I was told. Gotta get the account to a zero balance.
"Fine," I said. "Send me a check for the remaining balance then close it out."
"We don't do that," I was told.
"You're a bank," I said.
"Yes we are."
"Whenever I've had bank accounts in the past, remaining balances are given over as cash or check," I said.
"We don't operate that way. Not with the Relia Card program that is," I was told.
"Sounds very controlling and Big Brother-like," I said before hanging up the phone.
So I set out to get the card to a zero balance. But you know how that goes--right to the bottom of the priority list where it becomes a nagging little annoyance that you don't remember to deal with until after you've left the damn store.
That being said, it turns out zeroing out the account didn't require any action on my part. U.S. Bank decided to charge me that amount for inactivity last month. What the hell? I thought.
So I rang them up again, this time for two things. One to cancel the account now that the balance was zero and second to demand they return that money to me given I had never seen a damn thing in writing that spoke of fees.
I spoke with Melinda.
"Hello Melinda, I wish to cancel my account."
"We cannot do that. You need to contact your unemployment office. Only they can do that," she said.
"That is not what I was told by your organization a few months ago Melinda. I was told once I zero the account out, I could close it up," I said.
"You were not given the correct information," she said. I love it when CSR's say things like that.
She continued. "We cannot do that ma'am. Contact your employment office. If they tell you to contact us, ask to speak to a Supervisor."
"What about this theft you committed by taking money from my account based on inactivity," I asked.
"That is part of our policy. If after a certain time there has been no activity on the card we have the option of issuing a fine," said drone worker.
"I never saw that policy nor did I consent to it," I said.
"It's in the account information we sent you when you signed up for the card," she said.
"I never signed up for that damn card, Melinda. U.S. Bank along with the Employment Department signed me up without my consent. And again, I don't recall reading anything about fees," I said. Now I was pissed. (Note: I decided to go through the information U.S. Bank sent me. Perhaps there was something about fees I missed. Nope. Not a thing. I even had Mr. N go over the information as well.)
I figured I could probably argue with her some more, ask to speak to her Supervisor and perhaps get that money back. But that would put me back at square one. I figured I was halfway home.
So I hung up and contacted the employment office. I spoke with Mark.
"Hello Mark," I said. "I'm calling to close my Relia Card Account."
"Hmm. You need to call U.S. Bank to do that," he said.
(You laughing yet?)
"Well, U.S. Bank said they aren't authorized to do that. That authorization comes from your end. I was told if you tried to pass me back to them I was to ask to speak to your Supervisor," I said, thinking the System couldn't possibly get any stupider.
"Can you hold a moment?" I was asked.
Clock ticks as I wait in silence. Not even music was played to entertain me.
Did I mention I had been on the phone for 23 minutes at this point trying to cancel this damn did-not-want-nor-ask-for-in-the-first-place card?
Mark gets back on the phone. He's never heard of this happening before.
"I spoke with my Supervisor. She said we can't cancel the account. She says just to let it expire out. When does your card expire?"
"You're kidding me," I said.
"No," he said.
"The card doesn't expire until the end of the year," I said.
"Oooh, well that is a ways away isn't it," he said, sounding sympathetic.
"You know, I never wanted this stupid card to begin with." What was I looking for? I don't know. Sympathy. Money. And end to the Big Brother and Banking marriage.
"Well, it isn't like anything will happen. On our end, we show the card as dead, inactive," he said, thinking that's how I wish to see the entire Banking industry.
"So can you guarantee me that U.S. Bank won't use my personal information for their gain? They already stole almost three bucks from my account for inactivity," I said.
"That seems unfair," he said.
"More like criminal. But hey, I guess it's rather naive of me to expect anything less of a Bank, right?" I said sarcastically.
Mark laughed an uncomfortable laugh.
"So what you're telling me is that U.S. Bank gets to keep my account open, against my wishes, they won't cancel it because they claim they don't have the authority to do so and you claim the same, and I'm just supposed to wait until the card expires," I said.
"Yep, it looks that way," he said.
"Mark, please don't take this as directed towards you because it's not. But your System you work for really sucks."
I then thanked him and ended the call.
So a little moral for folks about to apply for Unemployment Insurance: STAY AWAY FROM THE RELIA CARD AND U.S. BANK. While you will be given a card, hopefully you'll be one of the lucky ones whose request for direct deposit into your checking/savings account arrives and is processed in a timely manner so that your first check arrives securely in your own already-created and long-used account and as such, you can cut up that damn Relia Card and not have to activate it.
This is nothing more than a way for the Banking Cartel to make money. And think about it. How many folks are there like myself who opted out of the program and requested direct deposit into our checking account. How many of us had to experience the employment department being slow on the uptake which lead to us having had one or two checks deposited into the Relia Card. How many of us had tiny lingering amounts in those accounts for months on end.
And how many of us had those amounts stolen for "account inactivity".