The Bank of America has begun locking people out of their accounts, cutting them off from their hard-earned money, based on their citizenship status. The Miami Herald recently reported that Saeed Moshfegh, “who’s studying for a physics PhD at the University of Miami,” found that his account had been frozen because the documentation he provided proving he was a “student nearing graduation,” was incorrect. With rent due that week, Moshfegh had no way to access his funds.
People who already have Bank of America accounts and are in compliance with the bank's existing policy regarding citizenship suddenly cannot access their own money: https://t.co/d14kJ2YBFT pic.twitter.com/KF5osB6abP
— Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) August 31, 2018
This is only the latest in a series of incidents involving Bank of America and its customer’s citizenships. In June, a Kansas couple was denied entry to their account after refusing to answer whether or not they were U.S. citizens. When they called for assistance, their customer service representative asked the couple if they were U.S. citizens.
.@BankofAmerica is freezing the accounts of people it SUSPECTS of not being citizens even when proof of citizenship is not required to open a bank account in the U.S
— Voto Latino (@votolatino) August 30, 2018
Being a non-citizen isn’t a crime. Even entering the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant is a misdemeanor-level offense and shouldn’t be grounds for refusal of service at your bank (imagine if you couldn’t access your funds because you got a parking ticket). However, many are worried Bank of America will release its citizenship information to immigration authorities, who will use it to track down and deport them.
Ironically, BoA was started by an immigrant to help Italian immigrants who were discriminated against.
They had no banking options. Now they are doing the discriminating. I cancelled my credit cards today and told them why.
— Grace (@lastrega) August 31, 2018
After shutting down the Kansas couple’s account, Bank of America issued a statement:
Like all financial institutions, we’re required by law to maintain complete and accurate records for all of our customers and may periodically request information as required by law and regulation. This is not unique to Bank of America. This type of outreach is nothing new and the information must be up to date. Therefore we periodically reach out to customers, which is what we did in this case. Over time, we reach out to all customers to verify their information, not only specific customers. If we don’t hear from a customer in response to our outreach, as a last resort, we may restrict the account until we can confirm it is in compliance with regulatory requirements.
This is the push I needed to move all my money. I should have done it a long time ago
— S Holly (@shollyg) August 31, 2018
Though the Bank of America claims practices like this are “nothing new,” California Reinvestment Coalition executive director Paulina Gonzalez disagreed:
We work with consumer groups and financial counselors in immigrant communities across [California] and the country. This is new. We have Bank of America customers who we’ve spoken to who have never been asked this before last year. If they have this asked of them before they can show us proof.
“It’s like walking into a grocery store to buy milk and being asked for your citizenship at checkout—banking is one of the core aspects of daily life in this country." https://t.co/PdyJiGNHLF
— Sarah Mimms (@SarahMMimms) August 30, 2018
Many Bank of America customers have found inquiries about their citizenship when logging onto their accounts:
— Patrick Blanchfield (@PatBlanchfield) August 30, 2018
The Bank of America announced back in April 2018 that it would begin asking customers about their citizenship, purportedly because bank regulations require them to restrict service to citizens of countries under financial sanctions from the U.S. The bank claims even that won’t matter, however…as long as they are also citizens of the United States.
Watch the video. @BankofAmerica is locking customers out of their accounts when it suspects they are not citizens, despite the fact that proof of citizenship is not required to have a U.S. bank account. https://t.co/3f3ojdd9R0
— Angie Vorhies (@lavorhies) August 30, 2018
Moshfeg commented to Splinter:
It’s not the business of Bank of America to shut down someone’s account. Immigration officers are different from Bank of America….but they treat me as an alien.
Georgetown law prof ? gives BofA context. Note: Bank of America has been doing MUCH more than "inquiring about citizenship." As @rjwile reported it's suddenly preventing some EXISTING customers who have repeatedly provided proof of legal residency from accessing their own money. https://t.co/hC6KIeomBb
— Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) August 31, 2018
Anyone wanna recommend a good credit union here in los angeles? Apparently Bank Of America is freezing the accounts of some people & demanding they prove their citizenship so I think I'm out.
— Stephanie Mickus (@smickable) August 31, 2018
"It was not until he’d had conversations with multiple Bank of America officials that he was able to convince them to let him withdraw all his funds." So what's happening to frozen funds when someone is too afraid or doesn't know how to do this? ?https://t.co/UQBvG5b5IN
— shauna (@goldengateblond) August 31, 2018
Bank of America is facing heavy backlash over their most recent actions. Hopefully, a negative financial impact will help them see the immorality of their ways.