Say What? – A Letter With Potentially Dire Consequences

On May 9, 2011 I received an eight-page letter via first class mail from Chase Bank, my mortgage lender. On page one below my name and address the following appeared in bold print: “Your Recent Bankruptcy Filing.”

After the salutation the letter included a mortgage loan number, a bankruptcy case number, and a repeat of my address. This detail was all accurate, with the blatant exceptions of the bankruptcy filing statement, and the bankruptcy case number. I have not in my entire life filed, or considered filing for bankruptcy.

As for my monthly mortgage, I pay it diligently, always on or before the due date, and often in larger amounts than the required payment. In fact I’m an obsessive bill payer, conservative with my very small income, and free of debt, with the single exception of the mortgage loan.

So I was understandably outraged, and immediately called the Chase Bankruptcy Department phone number listed in this bizarre, disturbing letter. A recorded voice informed me that the Bankruptcy Department closed at 6 pm Eastern time. How convenient, I thought bitterly, for Chase to close such a key department at 3 pm in my time zone where a very significant number of its customers reside.

Not to be deterred I got in my car and drove a few blocks to the nearest branch of Chase Bank. There I showed the letter to an engaging young woman sitting at a desk whose business card included the title, “personal banker.” She seemed genuinely eager to be of assistance.

She promptly checked my photo I.D., and pulled up my bank profile on her computer. She made two phone calls in which she identified herself by name and branch bank, then described the matter I had asked her to address.

Following the second call the personal banker told me what I already knew, that the Bankruptcy Department closed at 6 pm Eastern time. So there was nothing the branch bank nor I could do until the next day.

At that point my concern began to escalate. It was possible that I’d be in a protracted struggle with a multiple billion-dollar corporation. While I was obviously at a disadvantage in such a fight, I was also prepared to insist that the bank correct its error. But I felt I needed help to get that job done.

So several hours later, after thinking through my options, I emailed the Consumer Watch program at CBS5 television in San Francisco. I described the situation and asked Consumer Watch for help in getting Chase to fully correct its error, including any negative impact on my credit rating.

The following morning I received a phone response from a Consumer Watch volunteer informing me of the program’s interest in my case. Later that afternoon CBS5 telephoned again. The second call was from a television producer offering to interview me for a future Consumer Watch TV clip. I accepted this offer, and an appointment was made to film the interview at my home the following day.

I had also telephoned Chase that same morning, and was referred to several different representatives, the last of whom promised to “investigate” and get back to me.

Jessica, the CBS5 producer accompanied by a film and sound recording colleague, arrived at my home the next afternoon as scheduled. Jessica’s interview of me was filmed and recorded. And several additional photos were taken, including one of the Chase bankruptcy letter. Jessica also told me that she had informed Chase of CBS5’s decision to televise the particulars of this apparently erroneous bankruptcy accusation.

Over the next six days I received calls from three different Chase representatives, and a letter, dated May 12, from their Home Lending Executive Office. The May 12 letter stated that my concern was being “researched,” and “within thirty calendar days….we will either resolve the case or provide you with an updated status.”

Now, also on May 12 CBS5 television received the following three emails from the JP Morgan Chase Media Department:

“Thursday May 12, 2011 10:41 AM…

• “Our bankruptcy department has confirmed that a bankruptcy was not filed by Mr. Martin. We are taking the appropriate steps to correct the account and amend credit if necessary.”

“Thursday May 12, 2011 10:58 AM…

• “I just received confirmation that we spoke to Mr. Martin. He has the contact details of our advisor in our Executive Office who is taking care of this issue, in case he has any questions.”

“Thursday May 12, 2011 12:31 PM…

• “This is indeed, a rare occurrence. We understand how concerned he was and are taking very swift actions to remedy the issue.”

On May 24, 2011, twelve days after acknowledging to CBS5 that the bankruptcy claim in my name was an error, the Chase Home Lending Executive Office got around to drafting a letter to me.

That letter included the following statement: “After reviewing your account, Chase has determined that you never filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case….Our Credit Department reviewed your loan on May 17, 2011, to ensure no negative credit will report to the credit reporting agencies to which we report…..”

Clearly the help I received from the Consumer Watch program of CBS5 facilitated the correction of this serious error by Chase Bank. The potential for negative television exposure undoubtedly prompted Chase to give my complaint the focused attention it would not have otherwise received.

I hope the clip of my interview was helpful to the CBS5 TV audience who viewed it during that segment of the evening news, which focused on bankruptcy and its potentially devastating consequences.

The psychological stress alone on those having to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, as well as those falsely accused of doing so can be huge.

Thanks to recent ideologically biased rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, American corporations now have carte blanche to financially influence our elections, and they are also legally shielded from consumer class action litigation.

I suspect there is a correlation between the enormous power of corporate America and its veiled disregard for the best interests of the relatively powerless every-day people corporations purport to serve.

John A. Martin, Jr.
June 19, 2011

About John A. Martin, Jr.

John A. Martin, Jr. was raised in Berkeley, California, where he later spent the bulk of his professional career, as the general director of a social service agency. His life journey has included four years of service in the U.S. Air Force, B.A. and M.A. degrees from San Francisco State University and the University of Omaha respectively, post Master's degree study at Tufts University and the University of California at Berkeley, and a wonderfully satisfying professional life working in anti-poverty programs, social service, education, and civil rights organizations. Martin is currently retired and resides in Novato, CA.
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