Bank of America – Taking Advantage of Youth – Is that Ethical?

November 6, 2008

As my fingers rest on the keys of this keyboard, I have heard from colleagues that I should avoid writing on this subject – as Bank of America – might elect to be a client and wouldn’t appreciate negative publicity. My question back to them was – as an ethics speaker and author – don’t I have a responsibility to speak the truth?

“Yes” was their reply “but at what peril?”bank-of-america-logo

So…being honest I have debated for days whether to write or not. In the end…I have elected to as I feel that ethical choices – at times – may mean less money or less business – but in the end – doing the right thing will always pay off. If I am to discuss someone else’s ethics, I must stand behind mine.

THE STORY: My son, Alex, received his “check card” and bank account from deal ole dad (that would be me) sometime after he was 16 years old. Weekly I would place his allowance on it and tried to help him understand how to responsibly use this first intro into banking.

He kinda got the idea – in that he knew if he presented his card that if there were no funds it would not be accepted. Likewise, he knew that he could take the card to the ATM and check the balance anywhere. Simple – so he thought.

Quick Reality Check: What the bank shows as an available balance isn’t always THE available balance. You would think in this modern day of instant transactions that once you use the card the amount used would “immediately” be subtracted from your account. Most of us adults know – NOT SO. Young people don’t get that. Let me repeat – YOUNG PEOPLE DON’T GET THAT! They think that if you send a text (for example) and it arrives within seconds – then when you use your card the money is withdrawn in the same time. In their minds why would it not be?

Back to the story – So as Alex nears the end of his 17th year he overdraws his account. Seems that he didn’t know the balance in his account when he drove into the convenience store one weekend. He pumped gas and paid with his checkcard. A little later that day, he went to the Bank of America ATM and checked his balance. All seemed well. So he went to the movie, purchased some popcorn and a drink, later purchased a sandwich from Subway and got some gum from the convenience store. All purchases were made with his checkcard – against a balance he thought he had – afterall, the ATM told him his balance “after” he pumped his gas.

Adult readers know exactly where this is going. The gas purchase had not yet been removed from his account as it was done over the weekend…and all the other purchases exceeded the balance in his account. HE WAS OVERDRAWN.

Is that the ethical issue – Not a chance – that’s life. And at times life comes at you hard. For Alex the very real realization was that for each overdraft he owed $35. Yes – my son – you owe $35 for purchasing a $1.29 pack of gum. “That’s not right dad,” I remember him telling me. To which I replied, “Then take it up with the bank…you got yourself into this you can pay yourself out.”

HELP WITH AN INTERESTING TWIST: Up to this point the issue is my son screwed up. But, true to my suggestion he went to his local Bank of America branch to seek help. Oh, by this point he had turned 18.

He met with the Assistant Manager and told her his plight. She was kind in helping him (so it seemed) and “split the difference” on the overdraft charges – she forgave some and he paid the rest – then she suggested that he apply for a “STUDENT CREDIT CARD.” She told him that the credit card would provide him overdraft protection and keep him from having problems like he just had.

What do you think he did? He SIGNED UP! No questions asked…it just seemed like a good idea and (not knowing any better) he took her trusted advice. She did tell him that he would need to link it to his account when he got it. Reality check: Link it to an account when you’ve never had a card before doesn’t connect. That’s like telling a guy in his 20’s you need to have your PSA checked. They’ll look at you and say O.K., but not know what a PSA test is!

Reality Check: Likewise, she never told him that the suggestion she was offering was not “free.” Turns out that if the card is linked to the account it will advance funds to cover an overdraft (that’s what he was told). What he was not told was that there is a COST involved. Seems that Bank of America charges $10.00 per overdraft transfer. Hum…so let me get this straight – the $1.29 pack of gum which cost him $36.29 would now cost him $11.29. Great deal huh?

Back to the story… The card came in and he did exactly what he thought she told him to do. It said on the card – call this number to ACTIVATE your card. Well since it had been a week or so since he had been in the bank – he assumed that the instructions on the card were what she was talking about and so he did what he was told to do (or so he thought) and he activated the card.

BIG PROBLEM NOW: A month of so passes – no problems – then in July ’08 he overdrew his account again – and again it was the weekend nightmare. Minor purchases were made – 10 in fact – that each were overdrawn from his checkcard. POINT OF INTEREST: For any readers, if your children have checkcards – do they maintain a check register? My guess is NO! Most of them have never written a check in their lives and don’t connect with the “write it down and keep the balance” mentality of adults. The rest of this story – YOU GOT IT – HE WAS CHARGED $350.00 in overdraft fees.

He was devastated and I was furious. He went back to Bank of America and once again talked with the same Assist Manager who encouraged him to get the credit card (without full disclosure – that begs and ethical question). She told him that he was to “link” it. He thought by “activating it” he had. No…per this Assistant Manager it was his fault. There was nothing she could do to help him. Well, she could transfer the OVERDRAFT charges to his credit card and clear his checking account.

Faced with no acceptable option he elected to have the fees transferred over to his credit card. NOW LET ME GET THIS IN MY HEAD. A bank officer with Bank of America suggests a kid get a credit card to help with overdrafts. She doesn’t follow up to link the account of have it automatically link, she assumes that kids who have ZERO experience will know what to do. She doesn’t tell him that there are continued charges if he does overdraft. Oh, and she suggests the transfer of $350 of fees (profits to Bank of America) into a credit card where they will get MORE FEES. Sorry, but that just seems irresponsible, greedy and UNETHICAL.

THE REST OF THE STORY: It’s early October ’08 and my son is now in college. He and I visit another Bank of America branch seeking help for this situation. We met with another Assistant Manager who appeared to want to help. We shared the story and she was appalled. She said that anytime she suggested that a kid get a card – she would follow up to make sure the card was linked. That made sense to me.

With a Masters in Accounting – I understood the numbers. While I didn’t like the fact that my son was maneuvered into a credit card that still cost him should he overdraft his account, I accepted that fact.

So what would be a fair outcome? I suggested that if the card had been linked properly in the first place he would have been charged $10 for each overdraft incident or $100.00. He was charged instead $350.00. It would seem the fair, just and ethical response would be a $250.00 credit on his card. SIMPLE.

Nope…not so…you see there’s profit involved and which branch would “suck up” that loss? The branch in his college town called the branch in his home town. One Assistant Manager talked to the other Assistant Manager. At least the one in his home town told the truth – the facts are as I’ve stated. But she was unwilling to take the charge – afterall it would be charged against her branch. (And apparently Bank of American needs all the money it can earn from what ever source including unsuspecting young people). Of course, the Assistant Manager in his college town…well, she was sympathetic but unwilling to take the charge either – afterall she or her branch didn’t create the problem.

QUESTIONS: Does a bank have a responsibility to fully disclose all charges and possible pitfalls when suggesting to young people that they subscribe to a product of theirs?

Is it right to suggest to a young person that they should obtain a credit card for a specific purpose without first disclosing that there are fees for the application of that purpose?

Is Bank of America so motivated by profit at the branch level that they would elect to look past the obvious ethical choice in order to keep $250.00 profit from an 18 year old who knew no better?

Perhaps the last question: Am I the one off base here?

Oh…per the Bank of America Web Site related to their Code of Business Ethics the following is stated: The code, in effect, explains what we mean when we say one of our core values is “doing the right thing.” Somehow I can’t think that charging unsuspecting newly turned 18 year olds is “the right thing” – but perhaps I am off base?

Your comments are encouraged and welcome!

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6 Dead in a Senseless Act of Violence at Northern Illinois University – What Provokes Such Anger?

February 14, 2008

As reported all over the news – both broadcast and internet – a lone gunman walked into a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and wounded 18 people and killed 6 including himself.

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According to CNN the shooting occurred shortly after 3 p.m. (4 p.m. ET) in Cole Hall. The class runs from 2 p.m. until 3:15 p.m., University President John Peters said.

“It started and it stopped very quickly,” said Police Chief Donald Grady. The gunman, whose identity has not been revealed publicly, was not a student at the NIU campus in DeKalb, west of Chicago, but “may have been a student somewhere else.”

Police do not have an apparent motive now, Grady said.

While at this moment little is know about the motive, as the days move forward and the investigation proceeds more will be revealed.

According to reports from cbs2chicago.com A viewer who e-mailed CBS 2 said that her brother was in the lecture hall where the shooting happened. “He says that the gunmen was a white male dressed in all black. He kicked the door in and opened fire. My brother dove under the desk, and popped his head up to see the gunmen was reloading. He grabbed his girlfriend’s hand and ran to the library where they been in lockdown since.”

Katie Wagner, a student who was inside the classroom, tells CBS 2 that there were 70 students inside room 101 at Cole Hall when the shooting happened. She said the gunman entered from a side door near the front of the lecture hall and started to fire shots.

Is it just me – with too much media access – or is there a pattern of anger today that is acted out in violent ways. We seems hear of unprovoked senseless acts of violence – much like the Virginia Tech University massacre of 33 people. It’s just amazing. This grabs the headlines today, but in reality it’s everywhere you turn.

In Oxnard, California a fifteen year old student was shot in the head by an unidentified 14 year old. Police have not alleged a motive for the shooting, but said there appeared to have been “bad blood” between the teens. Police said a handgun was used in the attack, which occurred with more than 20 other students in the room.

As a teen ethics speaker, (www.chuckgallagher.com) I often get the question from parents – where does the anger and violence come from?

As we struggle to make sense of the headlines we see weekly, the question that begs an answer – what makes kids these days more angry?

And more importantly, what can we do to stop the violence?

Your comments welcome!


Teens and Sexual Predators – MySpace Social Networking – How Can Parents Protect Kids From Harm? (Post Two of Three) Comments by Teen Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher

January 19, 2008

Post one – You can’t teach what you don’t know! As soon as I finished my post, it hit me – dummy, take your own advice. So (at the time early Saturday a.m.) I set up a MySpace account. Here’s the link – although there’s more information on my web site. MySpace

Parents: What do you need to know?

Years ago, if a child was going to be the target of sexual predators, it would be in some face to face way. The predator would hang out at the school yard or play ground. Or, perhaps, the predator could be a trusted friend or adviser – such as the highly publicized incidents with priests, etc. Whoever the predator – the reality was they “fished” from small local ponds – our children were the “fish” and they had to come face to face with them in order to “bait” them into the trap.

Social networking has changed the landscape for predator fishing forever. That’s what you need to know. The pond has changed, the method has changed, the bait has changed – it’s now easier to fish and since the environment is bigger and the lures are better – it’s easier for the unsuspecting to get caught.

Consider this: With computer access, I could have set up a free e-mail account with yahoo, hotmail, etc. and been anyone I wanted. (I could have hidden my true identity). Then with that e-mail account I could go to MySpace and set up my account there providing information that was untrue. In order to have my MySpace account in working order all I would have to do is confirm my e-mail from my new e-mail account.

I refer to my earlier comment. Now, in order to catch the prey (that’s our children – don’t forget) I can be anonymous, charming, attractive, and totally unreal. Not to be too funny with this fish stuff…but in the old days you fished with live bait. Now, go to the Bass Pro stores and look at all the great (fake) bait they have to make fishing easier. Makes you wonder if the fish have a fighting chance.

The same is true with unsuspecting children. The changing environment of social networking has caught society off guard, making it easier to lure the prey to the trap and all that done under the nose of the naive parent.

Rule Two: Understand the territory, the lay of the land, if you will, so that you can be aware of what is taking place and how to train your children to be careful when using social networking.

Let me be clear…we all use social networking every day – it’s called e-mail. We surf the net (wonder if you mentioned that to your grandparents if they would know what that means), have anti-virus software and remain vigilant for identity theft predators. And yet, identities are stolen daily. We, as adults, have to be aware that there are predators out there, so why should we not education our children to that fact. The fact is, we can more easily identify with identity theft, cause it’s something we know. We are not nearly as adept at social networking as our kids are – hence teaching safety is more difficult.

Suggestion: Set up your own MySpace account.

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Trust me, it will be an educational opportunity. Just click on the buttons, follow the directions and see where it takes you. You’ll be surprised all that our children are exposed to (not all bad mind you) and easy it would be to ensnare someone who is unsuspecting. Once you’ve set up your account…you can delete it – should you desire. My suggestion – keep it up a while and see what happens. If nothing else, you’ll learn what you need to know to teach your children better.

Chuck Gallagher, Teen Ethics Speaker signing off…


Teens and Sexual Predators – MySpace Social Networking – How Can Parents Protect Kids From Harm? (Post One of Three) Comments by Teen Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher

January 19, 2008

“What is a parents’ roll in protecting their children from harm when they are using MySpace, Facebook or other social networking media,” asked a reporter of me yesterday. As I listened to the message on my cell phone and prepared to call him back, it caused me to think about the content of my response – after all when being interviewed one wants to sound clear and concise in response and thought.

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Reality was, as I was driving, I was flooded with seemingly simple ideas about what we can parents can do to help our children – many of which were so simple that perhaps they would go unnoticed. So, while the writer of the article will likely be more articulate than I – I woke this morning with the strong feeling that I should take some time in this blog to share some ideas that perhaps – just perhaps – might help those of us who are parents with the question of how we protect our children in a social networking world that is unfamiliar territory to most of us. So here are some specific thoughts which might help:

Parents: How Do You Teach?

As a parent, it occurred to me that when I taught my children (consciously) I was teaching from a framework of what I had been taught or what I had experienced. For example, my mother taught me to be careful when talking to “strangers” – in fact, she said, “Never talk to strangers.” Her words were clear although our actions were different as she and I would talk to people we didn’t know – most of the time – as long as the person and location felt safe.

Explore that with me a second…feeling was the key word in the above sentence. We as parents and our parents had a significant benefit that our children don’t have with MySpace – Facebook, etc. — we had the benefit of face to face interaction. One of the God given gifts we have as humans is the intuitiveness to sense danger and flee. Have you ever been in someone’s presence that felt wrong? Most of us have and we left – we escaped to danger we felt.

So what do we teach? We teach our children to be cautious of strangers, etc. because that is our paradigm. Tough question for parents! So how many of you are comfortable with social networking when you are not face to face with the other person? How many of you could set up a MySpace account immediately after reading this? And, if you set it up, what would you do with it then? If you honestly answer – I wouldn’t really know what to do – then you’re teaching from your paradigm (face to face interaction) but they (our children) are working in a virtual world where there is no face to face – at least not at the outset.

Rule One: If you want to be an effective parent, you must recognize that the world your children live is is not the world you come from.

The rules that we all learned by (and I am speaking to parents here) still work – they just need to be modified for the environment. I think I am somewhat computer savvy. (Really I’m not, but I still like to think so) I am connected to LinkedIn, a business social network. Now, I have to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how to make that work for me. On the other hand, kids get the concept and through MySpace – Facebook, etc. can live in environments that we don’t imagine. Hint: You don’t have to become an expert in social networking to understand how it works and therefore the correct advice to give your children.

Advice: Tell your children as it relates to social networking with MySpace, etc. – if they don’t physically know the person they are talking to – if they can’t identify the person (either because they have seen or know them or someone they trust has seen or knows them) then be cautious – extremely cautious.

I won’t go so far as to say, don’t talk to strangers (some would – I Know), but talking to strangers in a safe environment is, to me, acceptable. Shucks…if you didn’t talk to strangers we’d never meet anyone new. Reality is – talking to strangers is O.K. as long as the environment is safe. Our challenge as parents is, we don’t know or understand the environment.

As a teen ethics speaker, (www.chuckgallagher.com) I have the opportunity to speak to parental groups, teens and young adults about choices and consequences. I am the father of two wonderful boys. Through my love for them, I accept my duty to help them grow and mature. With that comes the opportunity to learn to expand beyond where they are now to become what they can be – and becoming ones best generally requires leaps of faith and risk. While I encourage the risks for growth, I also help them understand the potential pitfalls so they can be protected in their journey. Perhaps as parents we can grow so we can be effecting in helping our children do the same.

Motivational speaker, Chuck Gallagher signing off…

OH…see recent blog on MySpace’s “Safer Measures


Ethics – Do They Change Based On Generations? Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher Reviews

December 31, 2007

Chuck Gallagher - The Ethics Expert

As a professional speaker, from time to time, I receive helpful e-mails that are useful in illustrating my point about ethics, choices and consequences. On of my primary interests is Teen Ethics and how we, as leaders, influence the choices made by those who will inherit the future.

A very interesting e-mail was sent entitled “The Generational Divide in Copyright Morality” written by David Pogue. The link is here for the full copy:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/20/technology/personaltech/20pogue-email.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

The article goes on to state: “It was early in 2005, and a little hackware program called PyMusique was making the rounds of the Internet. PyMusique was written for one reason only: to strip the copy protection off of songs from the iTunes music store.

The program’s existence had triggered an online controversy about the pros, cons and implications of copy protection. But to me, there wasn’t much gray area. “To me, it’s obvious that PyMusique is designed to facilitate illegal song-swapping online,” I wrote. And therefore, it’s wrong to use it.

Readers fired back with an amazingly intelligent array of counterexamples: situations where duplicating a CD or DVD may be illegal, but isn’t necessarily *wrong.* They led me down a garden path of exceptions, proving that what seemed so black-and-white to me is a spectrum of grays.

I was so impressed that I incorporated their examples into a little demonstration in this particular talk. I tell the audience: “I’m going to describe some scenarios to you. Raise your hand if you think what I’m describing is wrong.”

Then I lead them down the same garden path:

“I borrow a CD from the library. Who thinks that’s wrong?” (No hands go up.)

“I own a certain CD, but it got scratched. So I borrow the same CD from the library and rip it to my computer.” (A couple of hands.)

“I have 2,000 vinyl records. So I borrow some of the same albums on CD from the library and rip those.”

“I buy a DVD. But I’m worried about its longevity; I have a three-year-old. So I make a safety copy.”

With each question, more hands go up; more people think what I’m describing is wrong.

The exercise is intended, of course, to illustrate how many shades of wrongness there are, and how many different opinions. Almost always, there’s a lot of murmuring, raised eyebrows and chuckling.

Recently, however, I spoke at a college. It was the first time I’d ever addressed an audience of 100 percent young people. And the demonstration bombed.

In an auditorium of 500, no matter how far my questions went down that garden path, maybe two hands went up. I just could not find a spot on the spectrum that would trigger these kids’ morality alarm. They listened to each example, looking at me like I was nuts.

Finally, with mock exasperation, I said, “O.K., let’s try one that’s a little less complicated: You want a movie or an album. You don’t want to pay for it. So you download it.”

There it was: the bald-faced, worst-case example, without any nuance or mitigating factors whatsoever.

“Who thinks that might be wrong?”

Two hands out of 500.

Maybe all this is obvious to you, and maybe you could have predicted it. But to see this vivid demonstration of the generational divide, in person, blew me away.

I don’t pretend to know what the solution to the file-sharing issue is. (Although I’m increasingly convinced that copy protection isn’t it.)

I do know, though, that the TV, movie and record companies’ problems have only just begun. Right now, the customers who can’t even *see* why file sharing might be wrong are still young. But 10, 20, 30 years from now, that crowd will be *everybody*. What will happen then?

Questions:

  1. Do you think “file sharing” is unethical?
  2. Should a persons creation be copyright protected?
  3. Is reprinting with acknowledgements a violation of copyright protection – as has been done above?

Most Important Question:

Should we assume that ethical values change with technology and generational attitudes?

Since technology makes it easy to copy and paste perhaps protection or compensation for artistic expression needs to change as the ethical attitudes about its use changes.

Your comments are welcome.