Monday, February 8, 2010

Warning of Automatic Payments attached to your bank account

I recently found out there is NO law that says a company can not re-tap into your bank account once you have gave them access to it. The only recourse one has is a 6 month stop payment option. After that 6 months is up, they can get back into your account. You are basically forced to close your bank account so they can not access it again. Apparently congress has a bill waiting to be passed that allows you to sign something to make them stop indefinitely. I don't understand this?

Banks allow people to access your account, with only a bank account number and routing number. You don't have to fill anything out, they don't even match the name on the account. I don't understand how banks don't have better security measures to have an Automatic Debit set up and maybe even send out a fraud alert, or email to the customer letting them know the money is being accessed. BUT then you have to fill out 3 pieces of paper to make them stop and the STOP is only good for 6 months.

What is wrong with our country? I can not believe this is not illegal! I am so frustrated!

My Story:
I lived with Andrew in San Jose in 2006/2007. We rented a house and the PG&E bill was in my name. I apparently set up automatic payments to come out of my bank account to pay them. At the time I only had one account, the same one I had for 15 years with a credit union. We only lived in the house for 6 months. We moved to Walnut Creek and Andrew put PG&E in his name this time. We were not married yet, and I stopped using that bank account after we got married. I didn't even change my name on it. I barely had $100 in there most the time, just ennough to keep it open. I mainly kept it open for my Paypal acct, because that is how people could pay me for my doula services via Paypal. I did all the normal things to close out PG&E account, tell them we are moving and gave them the new address to send the last bill to. Life took over and I didn't think about it again. Until a month ago....35 months later.

Sept'08 We had Hudson and moved in with Andrew's folks for 5 months. So we were in Walnut Creek for a little over 18 months. We bought our house in Roseville Feb 2009. I opened up all the utilities in my name because Andrew was traveling out of town when we needed to move. I specifically remembering calling PG&E and asking them about opening our account. The person on the phone told me that since I had not had a bill in my name in over 6 months we may need to send in a deposit. I was told I would be notified by mail if this was needed. I never got such a notice.

Side Note: the builder of our house also told us that it may take a month or two to get the utilities switched from them to us, so to be patient and let them know if there was a problem.

We got our first bill, and a note saying "APS Applied- No Payment Needed" was on it. It was only for like $12 so I didn't think anything of it, and chalked it up to the builder. Next month the bill came, said same thing, again only about $10 so I let it go. Moving and everything I stopped paying attention to it, I just knew it didn't need to be paid, so I ignored it. After about 6 months when the bill started to get higher than $15 I started to worry. Andrew and I had the discussion that either the builder never switched it over and they are going to come knocking on the door, or PG&E had us hooked up to a wrong account. We both decided we will pay them when they come a knocking. Again it wasn't that much money so why bother. Plus making phone calls with a newborn wasn't exactly my priority.

Fast-forward to Jan 30th 2010. I got a notice from my old bank with my maiden name on it, that my account was overdrawn. I went online and looked into my account. I could't figure out why I was over drawn. Then I went back 6 month and then a year and saw that PG&E had been taking out our bill for our Roseville house this entire time.

Not one time was I asked, notified or informed by PG&E or my bank to know that PG&E was accessing my account again. Remember this is over 36 months after they originally closed my old account, and almost 42 months after I had opened my original account with PG&E, let alone allow them access to my account.

I get we owe them money, I am not planning on NOT paying them. But I don't understand how all this happened. I was told by my bank -as I said in the beginning of this-that they will always have access to my account, and I had to fill papers out to make them stop, and close my account to make it permanent. What if this was my main account and I had all kinds of things linked to it? What a pain would that be.

So I am writing this to WARN everyone, that while ECH or APS whatever they call it at your bank, while convenient, is not regulated or controlled nearly enough. I don't advise anyone allowing a company for the rest of your life or existence of having the account, to have access to it, once you give permission there is no way to stop it permanently. So think carefully next time you think convenience, because it has become more of a hassle and personal violation in my opinion than any convenience has ever given me.