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November 9, 2006 12:42 AM

Broken: Bank of America jailing a customer

I've heard of customer-hostile banks (and have experienced them myself), but this Bank of America story takes the cake.

Matthew Shinnick dropped by a Bank of America branch in San Francisco to make sure a check he was about to deposit wasn't fraudulent. The teller found that the check was fraudulent and told the manager, who then had Shinnick thrown in jail.

Are you getting this right? The customer who wanted to make sure he wasn't about to draw on a fraudulent check, got thrown in jail by Bank of America.

From SFGate, Check from a scammer bounces victim into jail:

The teller contacted the business and was informed that no check had been written to Shinnick for $2,000 or any other amount. She immediately passed the check to the branch manager. "I saw him talking on the phone and staring at me," Shinnick said. "A few minutes later, four SFPD officers came into the bank. They didn't say a thing. They just kicked my legs apart and handcuffed me behind my back." The police report for Shinnick's arrest says he was taken into custody "for the safety of the bank employees as well as the bank customers."

Shinnick spent several hours in jail, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, before his father posted $4,500 bail. All told Shinnick spent $14,000 to clear his record. Bank of America refused to reimburse him.

In response, consumer advocate and radio host Clark Howard started a Bank of America "Money Loss Meter" to show how much money his listeners have withdrawn from BofA as they close their accounts in protest. It's up to $50 million. (There's more on Clark's site.)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more on the story: Clark Howard takes on B-of-A. For their part, Bank of America denies that customers are closing their accounts as Howard claims.


Holy Crap!!!!! That's all I have to say about that. Hope the bank's people read this.

Posted by: lefty-chef at November 9, 2006 01:21 AM

_@_v - would be real funny for someone (who's already gonna face jail time for sumthin else) to go to that bank branch and at gunpoint make them empty out all the money in the joint into a pile then make the manager douse it with gasoline and burn it to ashes...

_@_v - hint... hint...

Posted by: she-snailie_@_v at November 9, 2006 03:21 AM

That really sucks. One lousy mistake costs someone over 14 grand to clear up. Why won't the person file a lawsuit over this matter? Getting him arrested when he just wanted to check account balance probably borders false arrest and prosecution, defamation of character and libel.

Posted by: Uzumaki at November 9, 2006 05:04 AM

_@_v - unfortunately, california law shields people who report the suspicion of crimes to police from legal liability...

Posted by: she-snailie_@_v at November 9, 2006 06:16 AM

So this would qualify in the User Experience field as 'Bad'. In fact, one could argue that 'jail time' and 'huge costs' would reflect poorly on the customer experience.

Just checking. :-D

(Sort of puts the 'Argh! What a dumb error message JetsGo has on their site' in perspective, don't it?)

Posted by: DavesBrain at November 9, 2006 10:43 AM

Surely the thing that's broken here is the police department. They arrested someone, violently by all accounts, without any evidence of a crime being committed.

Posted by: Flup at November 9, 2006 11:38 AM

Isn't it... illegal in the USA to jail without fair trial?

Posted by: _LSK_ at November 9, 2006 03:50 PM

There's more to the story than the summary lets on. He went to the bank to cash the check, but before he did, he wanted to make sure it wasn't going to bounce. When the teller indicated funds were available, he asked her to cash it. At that point, it was discovered to be fraudulent. The bank has no idea if this guy is the culprit, or a victim. All they know is that he's trying to cash a fraudulent check. The police have to be involved at that point, even if this guy is an innocent victim. The bank doesn't have a crack team of investigators that can prove him innocent before the cops get there, so the cops do the reasonable thing and arrest him. I'm not sure this could have gone down any other way. I feel sorry for the guy, though.

Posted by: Fastolfe at November 9, 2006 04:36 PM

Uzumaki: No, that's not libel or defamation of character (calling the police is, for one thing, not making a public statement.

Further, truth is a perfect defense under US law for a charge of libel, and since the check was fraudulent, BofA has the ideal defense of "He had a fraudulent check he wanted cashed, we called the police. If the police decide he needs to be arrested for that, it's not our fault, and we make no claims about his actual guilt or innocence - that's for the court to decide.").

And depending on what the charge was, it's probably not false arrest, either. Given that there really was a bad check, it would be very difficult to show false arrest - false arrest is not simply being wrong about a crime being committed or who committed it; it's arrest without probably cause or a warrant. The bank calling and there being a fraudulent check is definitely probable cause, for purposes of a false arrest finding.

LSK: It's illegal to sentence someone to a prison term without a trial.

But when someone is arrested on criminal charges, they're jailed until they post bail or are tried. Otherwise it would be rather difficult to keep criminals in, say, murder cases, from simply fleeing. That's the entire point of bail.

Posted by: Sigivald at November 9, 2006 04:56 PM

Whatever you say, it is still stupid. I hope they are losing money because of this (not that I believe in them losing $50 million)

Posted by: st33med at November 9, 2006 11:10 PM

As long as you're posting about Bank of America...

Posted by: Alice H at November 10, 2006 02:45 PM

OK, so we have several people offering the legal advice that, roughly speaking, "this is the way the system works". So I'd like to ask those same people: What would you do in this situation? You've received a check that you suspect is fraudulent. What do you do now?

Posted by: John Aspinall at November 15, 2006 03:07 PM

"But when someone is arrested on criminal charges, they're jailed until they post bail or are tried. Otherwise it would be rather difficult to keep criminals in, say, murder cases, from simply fleeing. That's the entire point of bail."

That just sounds wrong? Wouldn't he be interviewed first, wouldn't they decide whether there was a case to be heard at all? Here he would've been interviewed straight away where they would've established the facts and decided to either let him go, let him go and investigate it more, or charge him and he would most likely be let out till he was due to appear in court (if it was decided by the authorities that a conviction was at all feasible) - after all he *isn't* a murderer - his story definately would've been checked before a trial would even be considered. I don't know how it works in america however, but when the government locks people up indefinately in a camp in a foreign country, denied the right to know what they're charged with, denied the right to present their case and even denied a trial all in the name of supposed security - the fact that he was locked up and forced to pay bail or stay till a court hearing on only a 'suspicion' of fraud doesn't surprise me much. oh well.

Posted by: blah_blah at November 15, 2006 04:19 PM

I think the thing that is broken is law enforcement.

If I ran a bank and someone brought in a forged check I'd call the police too. If someone forged a check against your account wouldn't you want the bank to call the police?

The issue is why did the legal system screw up so badly?

People complain of the anti-terrorist laws creating a police state but local law enforcement is a much bigger problem than the FBI or ATF.

Posted by: mbnyan at November 15, 2006 04:30 PM

You'd think there would be a more appropriate measure to take when someone tries depositing a fraudulent check--the person could be the victim OR the culprit, so simply arresting them seems like an overreaction when it's pretty 50/50.

As for suing the banks--that simply isn't possible. All attempts to sue banks will ultimately fail, unfortunately, and most lawyers won't take cases against banks. It's kind of scary, actually--they can be as careless with your money as they like and there won't be any repercussions. :\

Posted by: Sparrow at November 15, 2006 06:52 PM

The OP says he spent $14000 clearing his name. What does that mean? defending himself in court?

If he's found innocent wouldn't he get his costs awarded back to him?

Posted by: blah_blah at November 15, 2006 07:25 PM

I'm not completely surprised by this. I wrote about BOA and their disloyalty to their customers over 18 months ago. You can read my original story about them at:

Posted by: AdriftAtSea at November 15, 2006 08:30 PM

Aren't there more important things in the world to be pissed off about besides some dude who tried to cash a bad check and got arrested? Seriously, what is the bank supposed to do if someone tries to redeem a check that, when researched, reveals is fraudulent? 99.99% of the time, that person has stolen and forged that bank's checks and is in the process of stealing money from a customer. Happens quite frequently. The cops get called. If the cops choose to be dicks about it, that's their call.

As a bank teller, I LOVE it when customers complain about rules and regulations (that they RARELY bother to read up on and that are there to protect their cash/identity, by the way) and then close their accounts. Then they go to other institutions and have to rebuild their good relationship/history. When depositing checks at this new bank, they're going to put all sorts of holds on them for months until that customer is deemed trustworthy. It's hard to feel bad for them.

Posted by: cestmoi at November 18, 2006 05:22 PM

With "clearing his name" means that you clear your records at the police, so you can get loans, security-classified jobs and so on...

Every arrest, fine, sentences, warnings, even if you is innocent, is registred.

So I think that the cost clear your records from where you found out being innocent.

But I dont think sentences (where you found out to be guilty) are cleared by that payment process.

Posted by: sebastian at April 13, 2007 08:17 PM

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