Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Financial Records – Make them Prove It

If you haven’t seen the news, Countrywide Financial has been accused of fabricating documents in bankruptcy court. Countrywide Financial.

While the information age makes it is for financial institutions to keep records of everything, it doesn’t mean they can find it. Between ancient computer systems and merger mania, there is a good chance their records are inaccurate and/or incomplete. If they claim you owe money and you are not sure, make them prove it.

Years ago, a client came to me with a problem. His auto lease contained a provision agreeing to reimburse the bank (“Dumb Bank”) for any property taxes paid by the bank on his behalf for the vehicle. A few months after he turned in the vehicle, Dumb Bank sent him a bill for $434 for “property taxes.” Because he knew his jurisdiction rarely taxed leased vehicles, he refused to pay until they provided him a copy of the invoice from the county. Despite not being able to produce the invoice, they sent him to collections and he contacted me.

After I stopped collections, my conversation with dumb bank went something like this:

Bank: According to the lease, he agreed to pay us for taxes paid on the vehicle. We paid $434 in property taxes for 19XX.
Me: Please send me a copy of the property tax bill from the county.
Bank: We did.
Me: No, you sent me a bill from your bank. We want a copy of the actual tax bill from the County.
Bank: We don’t have to send you the tax bill.
Me: Why not?
Bank: Company Policy
Me: Let me get this straight, you want my client to reimburse you for a tax bill; however, you are unwilling to provide him a copy.
Bank: Yes
Me: Good luck with that.

Of course, they never found the bill (if it ever existed) and my friend/client never paid them.

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