The New Age Of Bank Robbery

A good old-fashioned bank robbery evokes images of a gun-toting masked robber, stick-up note, getaway car and clandestine murky hideout. Tabloids and film have memorialized this interpretation for decades and, to an extent, will probably continue to do so, but a new script has been written and has been playing at a bank near you. There is an ironic twist in the storyline, however: Banks are now robbing people--their customers!--in ways Dillinger would never have envisioned. In this new age of ever-increasing technological advancement, computers and plastic are the preferred weaponry of commercial banking gangsters and the bloodshed is red ink for banking customers.

Enter stage left, Fifth Third Bank, et al. The amounts of money Fifth Third has allegedly fleeced from its customers via improperly assessed overdraft fees would make Bonnie and Clyde look like pikers and make Nigerian scammers foam with lust. If you are, or were, a Fifth Third customer, you are probably aware of a pending class action suit against them. The lawsuit alleges that the bank improperly assessed overdraft fees for insufficient funds by “re-sequencing” transactions in order to maximize the number of overdraft fees. Although Fifth Third denies these claims, they have agreed to pony up $9.5 million into a settlement fund.

This “re-sequencing” of transactions is indeed a curious concept and should provoke further examination. So, what’s all this business about “re-sequencing” anyway? It appears that “re-sequencing” is a clever devious tactic intentionally designed to increase overdraft fee revenue. It works by recording charges and purchases on ATM or debit cards NOT as they chronologically occur, but so that the largest charge or purchase is the first one paid. Moreover, deposits are put in line after withdrawals to effectively increase the potential for an overdraft to occur. According to the lawsuit, Fifth Third computers used this so-called "batch-processing" to change the sequence of transactions from different days and within the same day, charging a number of improper overdraft fees."The result of this re-sequencing is that account balances can be manipulated to exhaust the available balance more quickly and in fewer transactions than if the transactions were processed in chronological order," the lawsuit says.

Although “high-low” check sequencing is, or was, standard operating procedure at banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and a host of other national banks, Fifth Third has taken it to the next level by charging overdraft fees on overdraft fees. Their policy is/was, that if an account had a negative balance (due to an overdraft), the account could be charged an additional fee for each successive period that it remained below zero. These fees were triggered for each additional day that the account was overdrawn. The class action suit alleges that these fees violate Federal and State law, as well as the contractual relationship the bank has with its customers. The complaint further alleges that Fifth Third manipulated debit transaction posting to cause overdraft fees even when there were sufficient funds to pay for a purchase. Additionally, it is asserted that Fifth Third failed to disclose fees that would be charged at the point of sale (POS) and used deceptive disclosures in its contract with customers to hide its true overdraft policies.

Anyone who has or had an account with Fifth Third Bank linked to a debit, ATM, or check card that incurred at least one overdraft fee from a debit card or ATM transaction between 10/21/2004 and 07/01/2010 is eligible to participate in the class action settlement. Cash payments to the members will be up to 3 times the overdraft fees paid during a continuous 45-day period. You can submit a claim online and view the detailed notice at or call 1-888-235-7491 for further information, instructions and options. The claim deadline is May 2, 2011.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is overseeing this class action, known as Schulte, et al. v. Fifth Third Bank. The Court will hold a hearing on March 16, 2011 to consider whether to approve the settlement, along with attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.

It’s time to take a stand against this calculated premeditated thievery. Hold them accountable; make them pay! If Dillinger were around today, would he still be robbing banks? Or would he be working for them? Think about it…

Note: The author is a former Fifth Third checking account holder.

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Volume 7, Issue 1, Posted 9:06 AM, 01.12.2011