Whistle-Blower: Banks Give Homeowners the Runaround

800-Numbers Lead to Nowhere as Banks Refuse to Modify Mortgages

March 23, 2010— -- A vice president for one of the nation's biggest banks claims customers looking for help in lowering their mortgage payments are often told to call an 800 number -- where he says representatives then give homeowners the runaround.

The bank executive spoke to ABC News on the condition that ABC News not show his face or name him, because he feared coming forward would cost him his job.

Of the 1.1 million homeowners who've signed up for the federal program aimed at avoiding foreclosures, only 168,000, or 15 percent, of homeowners have had their mortgages permanently modified.

"In our managers meeting, which can last eight or nine hours, we probably addressed mortgage modifications five minutes or less," the banker said.

Americans Frustrated by Banks

Jay and LeeAnn Givan are two of those frustrated Americans who reached out to ABC News about their banks. They say they've run out of time and money. Both lost their jobs in the recession, and they have been begging their bank since last September to modify or refinance their mortgage. Six months later, all the paperwork and phone calls have amounted to nothing.

"The bank's not interested in helping us," LeAnn said. "Just a couple of weeks ago, Jay was on the phone for two hours being transferred from department to another department until finally somebody told him, 'Look, we can't help you until you stop paying on your house.'"

The couple made its last mortgage payment last week.

"I have heard that," the banker said. "That will affect their credit card, their insurance, [have] a big effect on their credit history."

The banker described homeowners pleading to him for help, but he said his bank is not interested in modifying mortgages, even after taxpayers helped bail out the nation's biggest banks.

"It's just not happening," said the banker.

The banker said there is significant pressure on bank employees to get customers to take on more accounts than they need because of the late fees and penalty fees that will then come from those accounts.

In one year, the top four banks in the country brought in more than $40 billion in such penalties and fees, an amount that has doubled in the past 10 years, according to some estimates.

"There are cases when somebody doesn't need an account," he said. "Every time a customer pays a monthly maintenance fee, we make money. Every time that customer overdrafts, we make money."

Signing Customers Up for Accounts Without Their Knowledge

On top of that, he said, the incentives employees receive for signing up customers is so great that some bank employees go too far -- taking customers' personal information home with them to sign them up for financial services without customers even knowing.

The banker told ABC News the personal information includes Social Security numbers, ATM card numbers pin numbers, which bank employees used to sign them up for online banking.

"I've seen some of my customers in a four-month period have 10 to 20 checking accounts opened and then closed," the banker said.

This action is against the banks' policy, according to the banker and when it was discovered the employees in question were either reprimanded or fired.

The banker believes telling Americans about these practices is the right thing to do, despite the risk to his career.

When asked what would happen if his bosses knew he was advising individual customers when a financial product was not needed, he said, "As vice president of the bank, I would be terminated."

"I'm in the middle of the disaster and nobody is listening at the top. Nobody is listening to the customer," he said.