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California Woman Moves Her Money After Being Blocked From Her Own Account

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Last spring, Sandee Molenda says she was told by a doctor that her 75-year-old mother, ill with cancer and a systemic infection, didn't have long to live.

"Your mother's circling the drain," Molenda, 49, recalls the doctor saying.

In April, she went to her mother's Citibank branch to set up a trust account that would allow her to take over her mother's finances, which consisted of a few thousand dollars in savings and checking accounts and a certificate of deposit.

"I specifically asked that we do whatever Citibank required in order to make the transition as easy as possible upon my mother's death," Molenda wrote in an email. "I spent over two hours at the bank signing paperwork as a signatory on the account and was assured that there would be 'no problems.'"

Molenda, who runs a parrot business, says she had no trouble with the account for two months after her mother's death at the end of June. But when Citibank found out about the death -- the event for which the account specifically had been set up -- the bank freaked and blocked the account. Molenda said that after several phone calls, she was told the bank blocked the account "because one of the signatories had died."

Duh.

Her mother's checks started bouncing and bills went unpaid. Molenda went to the branch, where she said Citibank employees told her they understood the problem but just couldn't fix it. "At least you don't have to worry about ruining your mom's credit, because dead people can't get credit," she said a manager once told her with a laugh.

"It was six weeks of absolute hell and their whole attitude was, 'We know we did something wrong and we don't know how to fix it.'"

Bogus bills piled up, including a Sept. 14 notice about a bounced check that said, "The check was returned to us unpaid for the following reason: Refer to Maker." There was also a Sept. 18 letter from Citi's own credit services division, notifying Molenda that a credit line had been suspended because the account was 20 days past due -- because, of course, the checking account that paid it had been blocked by Citibank. The bank was actually refusing to pay itself.

"They kept racking up fees," she said. "They charged $200 -- Citibank charged itself $200."

The branch manager wrote a letter that went out to all of Molenda's mother's creditors: "Recently, a mutual customer of ours, Sandra Molenda, had a check returned to you unpaid. Please note that this was, in fact, due to a bank error and in no way should reflect negatively on the financial integrity of the customer."

Molenda said the manager eventually told her the only way to fix the problem was to set up a new account. "I said, 'Absolutely,' and I took my money and put it in a new account" -- at the Santa Cruz County Bank.

"They charge $5 a month," she said. "They're just wonderful."

Citibank admitted its error and touted its customer service in a statement to HuffPost.

"This account should not have been frozen," wrote a spokesman. "After learning of the mistake, we took immediate steps to fix it. In addition to reversing any fees assessed, we also wrote letters to all parties that received an insufficient funds notice, clearly stating that it was our error, not the customer's. Providing superior customer service is one of our most important goals, and we regret any inconvenience that the customer experienced."

Molenda said she was thrilled to hear about Arianna's "Move Your Money" campaign. That's why she wanted to share her story.

"These banks are too big to succeed," she said. "The right hand did not know what the left was doing. How could you people screw this up so much? They had every piece of documentation. I jumped through every single hoop."

She said she was in the process of moving her personal and business accounts to her community bank as well. She's still mad at Citi.

"I know it's very immature of me but every time I drive by the bank I flip them off."