Why I’m Falling Out of Love with USAA

At the beginning of July, I’d have told you that USAA was one of my favorite brands. (Yes, I’m one of those weirdos who thinks about “favorite brands.”)

Now it’s late October and I’m on the verge of moving all possible accounts away from USAA.

Why? I no longer trust them with my money. They’re a bank. This is a problem.

Here’s the deal. In early July, I noticed that we had not yet received replacement debit cards for one of our checking accounts, even though the cards were due to expire at the end of the month. I called USAA and asked. The cards had been mailed, they said. It was still possible that they might show up.

A few days later, they still hadn’t show up. I was pretty sure by now that they’d been stolen from our mailbox. I called USAA and talked to a very friendly representative. He canceled the existing debit card numbers and issued replacement cards with new numbers, and had them sent to my work address with a signature required. They showed up a couple of days later and things moved on.

Almost two months later, late in September, I get an email from USAA urging me to call them immediately. When I call them, the fraud department asks about some suspicious activity. About $1000 in transactions had been made at a couple of locations in Renton, Washington, most of them at a Wal-Mart.

Did I authorize those transactions? No, I did not. They were being made with the card that we never received, back in July. The old number, that we had been told would no longer work.

Weird. The representative promised that she’d put a hold on it, canceled the card (again), and that we should expect to have the money returned to our account within a couple of business days.

In retrospect, I should’ve pressed them on the timeline. “A couple of business days” is a long time to be out $1000 that your bank let someone steal from you.

A couple of business days later, the money is not back in our account, but I had received a form email requesting more info to open a fraud report. I fill in the report and return it. Calls to USAA lead down several fruitless paths — no one can clarify why it should take longer to get our money back, but that’s the normal way of things, ho-hum. Every representative needs the entire story told to them again, even if I reached them after being transferred from someone else who had just heard the story themselves.

In the end, public shaming on social media led to a quick(er) resolution of the problem. Someone from the social media team called me, apologized, told me the money would be back in my account the next day (because it was queued up behind the scenes as she was talking to me).

She agreed that none of this was my fault, and that yes, it had been unreasonable for USAA not to credit it sooner. And she apologized profusely, while also mentioning that no one was sure why this had been allowed to happen. The card was supposed to have been canceled in July — their systems agreed. But it hadn’t been, for whatever reason. A glitch. But it was canceled now.

At the beginning of October, I notice that a charge to Spokeo was authorized on that account number.

When I called USAA, the very apologetic representative wasn’t exactly sure why the transaction went through, but it was probably a re-billing from Spokeo. That was one of the companies that the thief had charged something to in September. The representative credited the charge, added it to the fraud report, and confirmed that it didn’t mean the card was usable.

All was quiet.

Until this morning, when I pulled up the USAA app and noticed that another series of charges had gone through. Sure enough — they were made with the canceled debit card. I spent almost an hour on the phone with USAA before going to work — most of that time on hold, unfortunately — and then tried several times during the day to get ahold of the representative helping me.

When I finally spoke with her, she confirmed that yes, it was super weird that this was happening, and she didn’t really know why. People made notes in the file that the card was closed, but they weren’t closing the card.

And she agreed that a) this was not my fault and b) we should have our money returned. This time, though, I was firm: Since USAA let someone steal our money, it didn’t make sense to wait for it to be returned to our account. And even though “they don’t usually do this,” she agreed to cancel the transaction authorizations, giving us access to those funds again.

Before I let her go, though, I asked why I should believe her. “I’m not accusing you of anything,” I said. “You’ve been very helpful. But this is the third time that I’ve had this conversation with a USAA representative who assured me that the card has been canceled and can’t be used again. So why should I believe that it’s different this time?”

“Well, I understand why it would be frustrating,” she replied. “And I don’t know why it hasn’t been solved before. But I can tell you that I just spent part of my day closing the debit card and de-linking it from your checking account.”

I had no real response to that. I asked if someone else at USAA could call me in the next few days and explain why this was happening — she was great, I assured her, but clearly new to the problem. She didn’t think, at that point, that anyone could come up with a clearer explanation than what she’d given me. Which boiled down to a bunch of people noting that they were fixing the problem, but not actually fixing the problem.

I thanked her for her time. She told me to call in the morning if there were any followup problems, since I had her direct number.

A few hours later, I opened the USAA app again. She was right: She’d canceled the pending charges, and that money was back in my account.

And there were four new charges made at a Fred Meyer in Renton, Washington, that had appeared since my phone call this afternoon.

I transferred all money out of that checking account. I’m calling back in the morning. I’m grinding my teeth.

I’m trying to figure out if there’s any way USAA can keep my business at this point. They continue to let a thief steal from me, and they’re slow about reimbursing me for their mistake. One criterion: Now I really want the equivalent of an ombudsman to go back and explain just what the hell has been going on.

Clearly, there’s some kind of glitch. Just as clearly, no one is actually able to fix it. Or they think they’ve fixed it, yet it becomes unfixed.

I’ve become something people dread becoming: Being an interesting problem. The trouble with interesting problems is that they’re tough to solve. That’s why they’re interesting.

Until September, I’d have said that I loved this bank. Now I feel like a sucker. They’ve broken several promises, and they keep letting some jackass steal my money.

So: Do I stay or do I go? Under what circumstances?

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