Not in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, you just have to worry about someone stealing your purse. Or breaking into your house and taking your laptop. And everything else right down to the plumbing and light fixtures, if you are gone long enough. Just your everyday straightforward petty thievin’.

No. I’m talking about banks in the U.S. THEY ARE SNEAKY BEHIND-YOUR-BACK THIEVES. Nothing petty about it. I have proof. Two proofs, in fact:

#1 First Federal Savings Bank of Florida, our sweet little home-town bank in Live Oak, FL where we used to own 10 acres of dirt and the world’s most poorly constructed mobile home… When we moved to Costa Rica, we emptied that account – that’s right: both dollars. Apparently, in the banking world, an Empty account does not qualify as a Closed account. Apparently that requires Proper Steps. Since we didn’t take Proper Steps, our account DOES qualify as Empty but still Service-Chargeable. Funny. I didn’t see that type of account listed on the brochure.

So for the last 17 months, they’ve been charging us a $9/month service fee. Service for what? How much service does an empty account require, one might reasonably ask? If one were reasonable and not the Oh So Annoyed lunatic I became for the few seconds I had their Oh So Reasonable Customer Service person on the phone.

We discovered this because they’d sent us a letter stating our account was being turned over to a collection agency for the $162 we owe them on our negative balance!

"Let me get this straight," I told the lady. "Even though our account was at $0, you’ve been charging us monthly fees anyway?"

"Oh, yes," she answered. "It’s what we do." You can’t argue with this logic. She is mailing us a statement history and I’m pretty sure I can get the amount credited when I’m not in lunatic mode. SURELY even a bank can see the logic… we’ll see. If they don’t, let them send it to collections. I honestly don’t care.

#2 My beloved Key West hometown bank, First State Bank, uses the online CheckFree service for us to pay our bills. When you write a check online, the bank mails it for you on a certain date, you only have to enter the payee’s info once, you can set up auto payments, all so convenient. If you live in a foreign country and have bills in the U.S., this is the way to go.

Well, I paid my life insurance too late. Which is ok, since I’m expected to live forever… The insurance company sent the check back to me. But when I looked at my online bank account, the money is already taken out, check listed Paid. How can that be, I naively ask myself? The money is still in my account. Isn’t it?

NO, hell, no. JP Chase Morgan, the holders of the CheckFree money from whence cometh your actual check, has already TAKEN THE MONEY OUT OF MY ACCOUNT and PUT IT IN THEIR ACCOUNT where they’ve been using it for over a month. You know, they reason, so we’ll have it handy when your insurance company comes looking for it.

So now, I have to chase my own money down and get it put back into my account in my bank where it belongs. AND, get this: on JP’s customer service line, they suggest the simplest way to take care of a situation like this one is to go online and simply put a stop payment on the check. OK. I went online and THERE IS A $30 SERVICE FEE TO GET MY OWN MONEY BACK. That is highway robbery.

No way I’m paying that. I sent them the online version of the Oh So Annoyed lunatic customer, accusing them of stealing my money and demanding its immediate return.

How long would it be before they returned my money without my asking for it? Ever? I’ll bet that info is buried in the CheckFree documents’ fine print somewhere.

Remember the good old days when you wrote a check and the money didn’t come out of your account until the payee presented the I.O.U.? When banks were people, too? My husband would say banks were never people, too. They just used to be better at hiding it.

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