December 11, 2023

I don’t know about you all, but I still get paper statements for what I consider the more important accounts I have. I can keep track of business expenses, etc,, file those, and toss the months there isn’t anything I need to hang on to. A nice solid stack of already curated money down the drain at tax time saves me from having to dig back through tons of websites and piles of online statements.

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I’m sure there’s other reasons people prefer paper, too. Maybe it’s like a reading a book, which I also do. I like paper.

All the bills I pay online nudge me almost every month with a friendly “Want to go paperless?” pop-up that I ignore, just like I ignore the auto payment option. No and nope. I’ll handle it, literally and figuratively, thank you very much. As much business as we do with all of them, they can afford to send us the reckoning at the end of the month.

It seems, however, that some of the major financial institutions are getting a little crabby about sending out paper to die-hards, and one of them has taken things to the limit.

Citigroup has thrown down a switch-to-paperless OR ELSE marker to some of their credit-card holders. The arrogance of the move has people kind of torqued off.

Some Citigroup credit-card customers are getting a stark warning from the bank: Go paperless or lose access to your online account.

Banks and credit-card companies have been nudging customers to give up paper statements for years. Aside from the environmental benefits of not printing millions of pages, banks have said switching to digital statements is also a cost-saving measure.

A “cost-saving” measure? With what the banks are making interest-wise right now, on money they borrowed from the Fed for basically nothing? Who are they kidding?

…The bank didn’t say how many customers received these messages. Though the policy requires customers to enroll in paperless billing to continue using their account online, they can switch back to paper later and retain access to the bank’s site and app, the representative said.

Barry Schneider had ignored prodding from banks to give up paper statements over the years, as he prefers to track his finances the old-fashioned way.

When he logged in to pay his credit-card bill last month, Citi gave him the ultimatum. If he wanted to keep receiving monthly paper statements, he would have to start making check payments by mail, too.

We’re requiring you to go Paperless to maintain digital access to your account,” the site said.

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Jeez Louise. That’s pretty damn pushy.

Schneider sounds basically like me – gets his act together on a quiet day, goes over things in his hand, and pays the bills online because it’s faster and safer.

Online is safer, by far, than mailing a check. Brother Bingley had a check stealing ring in his town. Put your bills out and flag up like always, and, before the postman got there, this gang had those envelopes disappearing from mailboxes. Bingley and my sister-in-law only found out after the utility accounts showed overdue, and they knew not only had they paid the bills, the checks had been cashed.

As he says, they were really lucky no extra zeros were added for giggles and grift.

When a check goes missing
It’s surprisingly easy for thieves to take your checks. If you leave outgoing mail in an unlocked mailbox at home, waiting on the mail carrier, thieves might beat them to it. Georgia State University’s Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group (EBCS) has been tracking check fraud, noting an average of 1,325 stolen checks being sold on the internet every week of October 2021. Criminals involved in this enterprise have even been able to purchase stolen USPS blue mailbox keys (or copies of them) and then swipe piles of mail from the boxes, hoping to find envelopes containing personal checks.

They can then wash the checks to remove the intended recipient’s name and payment amount, and then fill in whatever they want — usually a higher dollar figure than the check was originally written for. When that check is cashed or deposited, the money comes out of your checking account, and you’re left wondering what happened.

Another thing to remember about checks as a payment method is that unlike a credit card, they have a lot more information about you on them. Not only can a thief gain access to your bank account and routing number, but your name and address are on your checks. EBCS also believes criminals are using stolen checks to steal victims’ identities and use names and addresses to create fake documents and identification, such as passports. If a thief steals your identity, they can open credit cards and take out loans in your name. Plus, having your name and location out there and accessible to criminals is hardly a comforting idea.

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With Bingley’s bungling bunch, they didn’t even “wash” the checks. The thieves just added their own names alongside and got someone to cash them – no problemo. Astonishing.

What few checks I do write go either into the utility’s own drop box or into major dad’s briefcase to be taken to the base post office. No checks ever see the inside of our mail box and I think Citi’s pretty brazen to court trouble on that aspect of this as well.

There still are good reasons for preferring paper statements if one chooses to do so. Doing something for a bank’s convenience isn’t one of them and they do tend to forget you’re the customer. It also seems like a hugely irresponsible ultimatum over a piece of paper from Citgroup. because they’re put out having to mail a legally required statement, they are willing to force a customer who pays online regularly and securely, into a situation where a check could well be late thanks to the USPS itself, lost, or flat out stolen? All it takes is one time to really jack up the works for the customer you forced into that position to begin with.

That’s not how this should work.

The article says banks are required by law to mail statements once a month unless the customer themself opts out. But the catch is there’s no allowance for access to your digital account if you don’t bend over for what the bank wants. The consumer advocate they talk to says it doesn’t sound legal to him. The WSJ couldn’t get an answer out of the government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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But Mr. Schneider dug through his credit card agreements, filed a complaint with the CFPB, and good for him. He also badgered the Citi customer service line until they relented.

…Unwilling to give up his paper statements for good without a fight, Schneider scoured the fine print of the terms and conditions of the card and complained to the CFPB.

After multiple calls to the bank’s customer-service line, he was able to reinstate the paper billing.

Still, Schneider said he now plans to close his three Citi credit-card accounts.

Be proactive and go on offense.

Don’t let these big bullies shove you around.