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Richard Zombeck Headshot

I Refuse to be Ripped Off

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I've about had it with getting screwed by banks and watching while they continue to pick our pockets without even showing us the respect of being sneaky about it. On top of that, this all happens while Congress not only sits and watches but also applauds and rewards their behavior.

I refuse to be ripped off and my only recourse is to not pay.

While there have been smatterings of protests and outrage from Arianna Huffington and the Move your Money Movement, Marcy Kaptur telling homeowners to squat in their homes, Ben Pavone threatening to sue Bank of America, and Ann Minch's Debtors Revolt, has anything really happened to improve our situation or even have an effect on people? The response to this outcry and prodding has been underwhelming.

According to one article, The Move Your Money Movement has 7,000 Facebook fans (to be fair, the number is now above 19,000). Nineteen thousand people who are outraged and ready to do something about bank fees and blatant theft. That's a pretty low turnout compared to over 5 million people who joined "We Will Not Pay To Use Facebook" based on an unfounded rumor.

It's too easy for big banks to ignore the whining of a few thousand on Facebook. Moving your money to community banks and credit unions is a good start, but we also need to reclaim our right to equitable treatment and refuse to ignore the absurd fees and dismal customer treatment from the major banks.

Additionally, banks find it necessary to sneak in extra fees and undisclosed arbitrary charges to pad their books. Charges that can take substantial effort and time to dispute but multiplied by hundreds of thousands of accounts can add up to a bank executives salary.

A colleague of mine bought a washer/dryer at Sears last month. When he pulled out the cash they offered him a 15 percent discount if he put it on his card. At the end of the month he received the bill with 27 percent interest. He's been a loyal customer for thirty years.

My wife and I made it through mortgage negotiations with our bank recently, the three month trial period is over, and we have been approved for a permanent modification. This was not without considerable effort and pain that lasted over 15 months. We were interviewed and scammed so we protested and blogged about it.

We made the third of our modified trial payments before Christmas for the January due date. After insisting the bank put in writing that additional arbitrary charges will not appear on our future statements, today we received a letter from Ocwen that included $120 in late fees and a charge for a "drive by appraisal" of $109. When we asked about the charges, Jennifer Levy, an Ocwen Bank Loan Workout Specialist, responded by e-mail with, "Unfortunately, these are questions I can not answer. You may submit a research request in writing to 407-737-6375. Thank you". A FAX number.

I want to make it clear that when we bought our 1200 square foot home in 2006 we consulted with every loan officer, mortgage broker, and real estate professional we knew and, despite having money for a down payment based on their professional advice, we ended up with a 100 percent financed, no money down, above prime, adjustable rate loan.

I specified "above prime" because I'm anticipating the sanctimonious and anonymous cowardly comments to come. The ones that call me a leech, an idiot and ignorant. And ignorant I was, but I trusted professionals who worked for banks and sold homes for a living to advise me. Much in the same way that I trusted my cardiologist and surgeon when I had open heart surgery two years ago. I'm all about personal responsibility, but everything has its limit. In addition our modification was done internally by our servicer, so no tax dollars were involved or spent.

We originally reached out in September of 2008 (before the Making Home Affordable or HAMP was available) to government organizations like Hope Now, where Diana Esquerra of Nova Debt told us we were the reason the economy was in the state it was in and that we didn't deserve a home due to our irresponsibility. She also noted that we could afford the payment at 9.5% interest rate if we "cut the fat" off our expenses eliminating "basic cable, cell phones, and cars" and she further advised us to lower our heat to reduce our gas bill and spend less on food. As a final act, Ms Esquerra reported her findings to the mortgage servicer, Ocwen.

Our Massachusetts Representatives, Senators, and Attorney General's office were for the most part useless, unhelpful and generally unsympathetic. One of them actually left a half-hearted messages on our voice mail, saying, "I didn't realize you required or expected some kind of action on it."

Consequently, watching the rest of them handle regulation and executive salary in a manner befitting kindergartners is of no surprise.

People are still losing their homes, jobs and dignity. The bank's response to the growing economic troubles, rising delinquencies, and minuscule threat of regulation? Raising fees. What could make more sense than that?

As a result of our mortgage debacle, the credit card companies, despite being paid on time every month, decided to join the fray and jacked our interest rates to 29 percent across the board on existing debt that we'd been paying off religiously. When I called to ask why the interest had been raised, Josh at Chase told me, "Because we can."

So, I stopped paying. Because I can.

Our credit card debt is significantly lower than our share of the bailout and had we not been hit with arbitrary charges that led to more arbitrary charges we would have paid off the small amounts a long time ago. I have no need for a FICO score. We have a roof over our heads for now, transportation, I have a job and my wife is looking, and we have no need for credit cards. We pay our bills and do the right thing, but refuse to be taken advantage of by a company that won't answer their phone, charges interest rates that would make a loan shark blush, and can't provide me with an itemized statement of my charges.

When people like Arianna Huffington, Marcy Kaptur, University of Arizona law professor Brent White, who suggests that people walk away from bad mortgages, come together for a call to action, surely they mean to elicit more of a response than 19,000 Facebook fans.

I refuse to pay. Perhaps you should too.

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