Victoria Swindell, 19, stands outside a Chase branch in San Diego on a sunny day in November.
"I want my money back," she yells at the branch's facade. "I thought I could trust you. I thought this was America."
The scene is memorialized in a video by Seth Aronson, who was close to Swindell's mother when she died of breast cancer in 2007. Now Aronson, who said he looks after Swindell, is waging a YouTube war against Chase in an effort to get the bank to return hundreds of dollars in overdraft and insufficient funds fees.
The videos document the indignity of dealing with a megabank's call center. Aside from the field trip to the bank branch, they show Aronson, 37, sitting in front of his computer, trying to get through to a Chase call center supervisor in Texas to maybe show some humanity and refund some of the fees. The people on the other end of the line can't help him. They're functionaries in a massive system, they've got protocols to follow and Swindell signed up for the service she's receiving, after all.
"She's on Social Security for developmental disability," Aronson explains in his first video. "She's been with your bank since March 6th, and since March 6th, you guys have taken $858 in fees from her. For the past few months she'd been getting $400 a month in death benefits from when her mother passed. Since she's been an account holder with WaMu/Chase, you've taken a full half of her income in $33 fees."
The person on the other end of the line surely would like to help. She says she's sorry, but there's nothing she can do. Aronson repeats his request to speak with a supervisor. "I am going to keep calling," he said, threatening to make the supervisor "famous" via YouTube.
Finally, he is put through to the supervisor's voicemail and makes his offer: "I'm trying to broker a settlement where you give half of the money back and you only get to keep $429 in fees from a teenager." He said he has not heard back.
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Chase generally declines to comment on individual customers. In response to a query from HuffPost, a spokesman said, "When we're aware of special needs for an account, we work with the customer."
Aronson and Swindell told HuffPost she suffered brain damage from medication she was given while in juvenile hall after being arrested for taking her mother's car for an unauthorized (and disastrous) spin at age 12.
"They didn't listen to her when she said, 'I can't feel half my face,'" Aronson said. "For days it went on -- by the time they realized something was wrong, she was having difficulty breathing. From that point on, her brain has never been the same. They found there was significant developmental brain damage."
Aronson said that even after opting out of overdraft protection, Swindell had a hard time avoiding fees -- her January statement shows fees even though the balance never went negative. The new problem: pending charges.
Aronson hopes the YouTube approach bears fruit. He knows it's possible -- it certainly worked for Ann Minch, who had her credit card interest rate reduced after declaring a YouTube "Debtors' Revolt." But while Minch succeeded with Bank of America, she failed with Chase.
Here's why it might be less effective with this particular bank: Chase employees aren't allowed to watch YouTube at work, according to the bank's spokespeople. Oh well.
For everyone else, here's the most recent video:
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Chase Bank: When Customer Service Fails, There's Always YouTube (VIDEO)
When Customer Service Fails, There's Always YouTube (VIDEO)