Ted Baer is a dentist who had his money put on ice at Chase bank.
“They said I was permanently terminated,” says Ted, “that my accounts were frozen, and when I asked why, they said ‘we won’t tell you.’”
Yep. 30 years of banking at that same location, with no explanations given.
And his wife, Anne, is numb from the experience.
“We did nothing wrong,” she says.
But I’ve learned the why – in this case – may lead to Washington’s Employment Security Department. I’ve heard from Chase customers who’ve had their bank accounts frozen while caught up in the massive unemployment fraud.
Ted had two scam applications filed in his name.
“We think it’s shocking. It leads to a lack of trust on our part in the system. It leads to a feeling of not feeling safe,” says Ted.
Then Anne discovered someone tried to file for unemployment in her name, too. And when she called ESD, she says this is all she could get:
“Your account needs to go to a level three agent and they are at capacity and they can no longer take any other calls today – at 8:38 a.m.,” says Anne.
The next thing they know, their joint checking and savings accounts were frozen. Eventually, they’re told Ted’s name, but not Anne’s, is flagged for fraud.
We called the bank and were told in a statement:
“We’ve received requests from the State of Washington related to the unemployment situation and we’re working with the state and law enforcement to address this issue. Whenever a customer raises questions about their account, we review their account status.”
But Ted still needed answers.
“How can I fix this situation, what’s happening to other people? Is this going to follow me around? Am I going to be able to go to Canada? Am I going to get stopped at the border? Am I going to be able to fly in the future?” says Ted.
So we turned to banking expert Anita Ramasastry, Professor with the University of Washington School of Law and former attorney for the U.S. Federal Reserve.
“Innocent people are collateral damage,” says Professor Ramasastry. “They find that their accounts are frozen, they think it may be related to this whole employment security fraud and somehow they’ve been caught up in it. They’re innocent and the question is, what do you do to clear your name when you don’t even know exactly why this happened?”
She says that, while banks have the right to freeze accounts, they should offer consumers a way out. Right now, though, there’s no legal requirement to do that.
“There needs to be clear procedures that your bank is going to ask for so that you can actually unfreeze your account and clear your name,” says Professor Ramasastry.
Soon after we called the bank, Ted called us:
“Thanks to you guys, they reversed their decision and opened up the accounts,” he said.
Now this dentist has an extraction appointment at the end of the day – and Chase is his patient.
“As soon as we had access we got out as fast as we can,” says Ted.
I spoke to ESD and they tell me that bank accounts have only been frozen in just a few cases.
They also tell me they’re working really hard to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
So let’s see: if your bank account has been frozen, I want you to let me know so I can send it to them. And we’ll see how fast they”ll clear it up. Because if they can’t, I’ll be right back here doing another story.
See the rest of our reporting on Washington’s unemployment crisis: