Saturday, May 31, 2008

Check Those Statements—Part II

The last post chronicled the story of a dishonest receptionist whose shenanigans were foiled because my wife and I take the time to match every item on our credit card statement with its receipt. An item in the statement which does not have a corresponding receipt bearing the same total sends up an immediate red flag.

This saga is a little more complex. Every month, you send money to the mortgage company. Does the proper amount get credited to the principal and the proper amount to interest? Could some of it simply be disappearing into a black hole? How would you know?

Recently, we refinanced our mortgage to take advantage of a substantially lower rate being offered. Several months later, my wife noticed the balance on the principal was hundreds of dollars off from what our records showed it should have been. Phone call after phone call to the mortgage company produced little results. Rather than having the motto, “The customer is always right,” it became painfully obvious this company operated under the assumption that “The customer is always a bird-brain.” If our records didn’t agree with theirs, it must be something wrong with our records—end of story.

If you ever find yourself dealing with a company whose representative is supposedly taking copious notes about your problem so that they can pass them along to the person who will solve your problem, try this technique. On your next call, ask the person to whom you are talking to pull up the notes about your problem and read them to you. I never cease to be amazed at how incomplete those notes can be. We certainly found this to be the case with our mortgage company.

Interestingly enough, during two calls, a semi-helpful employee examined our history and mentioned a transfer of hundred of dollars from our account made on a certain date by “Tiffany” with no explanation of why the funds were being transferred or to where. (I have omitted the last name to protect the identity of the guilty.)

On a hunch, my wife called the mortgage company and asked to speak to that particular employee by name. There was a sudden silence on the other end of the phone. It seems Tiffany “no longer works here anymore,” and with good reason. Within a few seconds, my wife was transferred to the head of the department who personally got the wheels turning to fix the problem.

How many other people were victims of Tiffany’s scam and to this day do not know it? Obviously, Tiffany was the major player in this game of cat and mouse. But what about the other employees to whom both my wife and I had spoken? What about the lack of follow-through on the part of two different employees who saw the “Tiffany” transaction, found it odd there was no explanation attached, yet did nothing about it? What about the executives who fired Tiffany, yet made no concerted effort to find and correct these transfers of funds?

Yes, there are some great businesses in the world and some extraordinary people who work for them. At the same time, there are those companies who are at the other end of the spectrum who masquerade as the “good guys.” When dealing with them, keeping good records is a must. Examining and questioning statements is a must. Caveat emptor!
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