An American-born Kansas family had their bank account frozen after Bank of America demanded to know their citizenship status, reports the Kansas City Star.
Josh Collins of Roeland Park, Kansas ignored a letter from the bank asking a variety of personal questions, including whether he was an American citizen or holds dual citizenship with another country.
Josh was born in Wichita, Kansas, while his wife Jessica Salazar Collins was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri and is a second generation American citizen whose great-grandfather immigrated from Mexico.
Jessica said she tossed the letter out because she and Josh "thought it was a scam," since Josh had been banking with BofA for the past 20 years. On July 24, however, Bank of America froze the Collins' account - preventing them from accessing cash.
When Josh called the bank, they confirmed that his account had been frozen:
“The first question is, ‘Oh, we sent you something in the mail a few weeks ago,’” he recalled to KCTV5. “I said, ‘Yeah, I remember getting something that didn’t look real.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, we need to know if you’re a citizen.’ You know, I was born and raised in Kansas like Superman. I said, ‘How much more American can you get?’”
The family says they're lucky they put off a family vacation to Minnesota, as they would have been left high and dry:
“We would’ve found ourselves up there without money,” said Jessica, who says they’ll be changing banks. “No money for gas. No money to feed our kids. For a hotel. No money!”
BofA said that it's standard practice to ask about citizenship status when opening a new account or updating customer information.
“Like all financial institutions, we’re required by law to maintain complete and accurate records for all of our customers and may periodically request information, such as country of citizenship and proof of U.S. residency. This type of outreach is nothing new,” Bank of America said in a statement Friday. “This information must be up to date and therefore we periodically reach out to customers, which is what we did in this case.” -Kansas City Star
Except citizenship questions are not federally required according to the California Banker's Association - the largest state affiliate of the national group. "Not to our knowledge," said spokeswoman Beth Mills, who added that federal law requires banks must collect and verify just four things about account holders; name, date of birth, address and Social Security number.
Other federally chartered banks, including Wells Fargo, ask citizenship questions when some new deposit accounts are opened. The U.S. Department of the Treasury increasingly is urging financial institutions to collect as much information on customers as possible, including citizenship status, and to update often in part to ward against the laundering of money that may flow through foreign countries. -Kansas City Star
Bank of America spokeswoman Diane Wagner blamed the Collins family for failing to return the questionnaire.
“If we don’t hear from a customer in response to our outreach,” she said, “as a last resort, we may restrict the account until we can confirm it is in compliance with regulatory requirements." Collins wasn't chosen for any specific reason, according to Wagner.