Robbed by a Bank

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Over a year ago Vi was wondering where to put her family’s modest savings. The peso was erratic. Any contact with the US involved too many forms and regulations. A friend suggested Danskebank, which is Danish.

We thought about it. The Danes were not too vivacious, entirely inadequate as party animals, but solid and respectable. Reliable. No sub-prime scams. I pictured the president of Danskebank at a forty-acre mahogany desk, looking like Yahweh in a business suit. I figured they probably did him in Animatronics to save money, but Yahweh is Yahweh.

Opening an account for Violeta at Danskebank by mail was iffy. Mail from Le Continent can take weeks and often neglects to arrive in Mexico. But Saint Patrick ’s Day approached. Danskebank had a branch in Dublin, National Irish Bank (part of Danskebank despite the name). I sensed a pretext for rank hedonism. We would go for St. Paddy’s, paint our faces green, drink too much Guinness, and Vi could set up her account. Was this brilliant or what? Hey, I didn’t go to school just to carry my lunch box.

We arrive, and go to National Irish Bank, 27 College Green. Vi had, or thought she had, all required documentation: passport, analysis of grandmother’s dog’s DNA, and two proofs of residence, namely phone and electric bills. Easy, right? Half an hour max in a US bank. Right?

No.

One Rosemary was going to set up the account. She observed that one proof of residence was of the form 123 Hidalgo, Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico 45800, and the other was 123 Calle Hidalgo, etc. “Calle” means “street.” The addresses were identical, like 456 N. Maple St. and 456 North Maple Street.

We explained this to Rosemary, but she wasn’t having it. She could see that the addresses were different. Obviously Vi was a narcotraficante laundering drug money, or perhaps a transvestite assassin with al Qaeda. I suggested that Rosemary do a thirty-second Google search on “Calle,” but no. That would display intelligence, show initiative, and constitute customer service, none of which Danskebank will essay. As we found out.

At this point I should have heard the violins. You know how in a vampire movie when the heroine is alone in the woods, and the camera moves in tight, and the violins say, "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" so you know disaster is at hand and she is about to become a transfusion? Disaster was indeed at hand.

Back in Mexico, Vi had to get a letter from her bank attesting that she lived in our house, which she FedExed, about $50, because mail doesn’t work well, etc.

OK, account up. But to have access to it, ah, that was a different and more exotic thing. Vi needed a password, which the bank sent by mail, and a little plastic card with numbers on it, which came, theoretically, in another envelope. This makes sense when the mails work. Did I mention that they don’t here? So the bank would send a little plastic card, which weeks later would not have arrived, so the bank canceled it and sent another, but then the first one did arrive, but we received the password for the second card, which wouldn’t work with the first, on and on till the sun burned out and Death Valley spawned glaciers.

Bear with me, gentle reader. We are coming to profound international observations.

Supervising this disaster was Ms. Molly McGuire, I’ll call her, minion of the bank, whose chief and perhaps only function was to say, “I regret that we cannot….” She said it in response to everything. “Why don’t you send the goddamned little plastic card FedEx and charge Vi’s account?” “I regret that we cannot….” I actually began to think that Molly McGuire didn’t really exist, that she was done in software. Thing is, software has more imagination.

Now, I used to think and still do, that Europe was more livable and civilized than the US, but I had wondered why Europe never did anything that took initiative, like start Google or Facebook or Yahoo. Americans make mediocre cheese, but they can do simple things all by themselves. If I email Bank of America or Suntrust with some odd problem, invariably I get an intelligent response from someone who has actually thought about the matter and wants to find a solution. They don’t say, “I regret that we cannot….”

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that Molly McGuire must be software. I mean, it didn’t make sense to hire a human just to say “I regret…..” Did she run under Windows 7, or was she UNIX-based? But all of the bank seemed to work the same way. I concluded that the entire staff of Danskebank, working around the clock for six months, gobbling crystal meth, might be able to address an envelope. But it didn’t seem likely.

Finally, miraculously, Vi got what seemed to be a little plastic card and a password that matched it. Delirious with joy, she set about logging on. But no. No! The software told her Too many log-on attempts, contact the bank. This was because every time she got a little plastic card, probably canceled, or a password, probably associated with a different little plastic card, she tried to log on.

As per instruction she endeavored to contact the bank. It responded that it regretted to inform her that it couldn’t discuss such things except by secure email, which required that she be logged on….

In short, Danskebank was not going to let her near her funds. I have seen a video of a mother bear protecting her cubs. That bear wasn’t near as determined as Danskebank was about protecting Vi’s funds. From Vi.

St. Paddy’s day rolled around again.

We managed to pay Nata’s college fees, which were the point of the account, from other money. However, it had become clear that Molly McGuire was not going to let Vi have a red cent as long as she, Vi, remained in Mexico. In desperation, we decided that, come university vacations, Natalia and Violeta would fly to Dublin to pick up a bank check. Both would have to go, since the money was in Violeta’s name but Natalia’s English is better. It shouldn’t have mattered, since Vi communicates pretty well. We knew, though, that if Molly McGuire failed to understand a single word, the girls would get the banking equivalent of a blank stare and the usual “I regret that….”

Does this strike you as outrageous? That the girls would have to fly internationally to make a withdrawal from an allegedly international bank? It did not strike me as outrageous. Nothing about National Irish Bank any longer seemed strange to me. If they had covered the bank to a depth of three feet with fresh-caught squid, I would have thought, It’s just their way.

We called Lupita, our travel agent. Tickets would be $1847 each, Guadalajara-Mexico City-Amsterdam-Dublin. Throw in hotel, meals, and the other expenses of travel, and it would cost $5000 to save the rest of a not-very-large amount. Sadly, there was no recourse.

But…but….nooooo! Molly McGuire told us that even in person Vi couldn’t have her money unless she…yep, logged on, the inability to do so being the crux of the whole mess, to do some administrative thing or other.

No matter what Vi did, Danskebank was not going to let her near her money. How is this distinguishable from confiscation?

She couldn’t even visit her money – you know, like in prison movies, thick bullet-proof glass, talk to her dough with a microphone. It was in max, twenty-four hour lockdown.

Something fishy was going on, I figured. My best guess was that Yahweh and Molly McGuire planned to take the money and run away to Monaco – where it would last ten minutes. But questions remained. If Yahweh is in Animatronics, and Aine Martina in software, how will…? Me, I’d rather date software that said something other than, “I regret that I cannot….”

Is there any hope? Hire a lawyer, maybe, who I think are called "bannisters" in Ireland. But they too are probably software. "We regret to inform…."

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be, Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet Nam, and A Grand Adventure: Wisdom’s Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about Mexico. Visit his blog.

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