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Well, you’ll never believe how my day has gone. Yep. It’s been that bad.
Today, I received an email from E*Trade that my account had been locked due to [someone] trying to make changes to it that required over-the-phone verification on my part. Okay, great. Someone found a way to get into my account and is probably trying to steal my money. Thank the Lord I only have like $150 in my Roth IRA.
So I call. I do not have to wait. Someone is on the phone with me immediately. Unfortunately, that is where my luck ended. The rep asked me what my account number was. I do not know my IRA account number because I don’t remember EVER having that information sent to me, and it’s nowhere to be found in my emails from when I set up the IRA. I only have the last 4 digits, so I offer up my social instead. This worked, but I still had to verify my name, home address, date of birth, and phone number. Understandable.
After this, she tells me she is going to send me a code to my cell. Great! This should be easy, but for some reason, she cannot send me the code. She moves on to another way to verify my identity. She says she will ask me verification questions about my past – you know, the ones that you have to answer to view your credit report? So I know I got the first one right because it asked which street I had lived on.
The second one was about a student loan company I had in 2007. I listened to the options and none matched my loan company (this loan was later consolidated with all my government loans, so I was concerned about this question). I chose the answer “None of the above.” Then she asked me what my loan payment had been for that company. This also felt like a trick question because I was never required to make payments on the loan because it was subsidized by the government. When the time came to repay the loan, the payments were $50, but the loan was quickly consolidated with my other federal loans, so I no longer had service under that provider. I tell her the payment was $50, but am not sure because it may consider $0 the payment.
Of course, I fail the verification test.
At this point, I am frustrated because I am at work and this is taking more time and brain power than necessary. I am then told that I must send in photos of my driver’s license – front & back – plus a verification document in order to unlock my account.
Fine. Whatever. I’ll do it. I then ask, “Can you at least tell me why this happened? Why has my account been locked? Did someone try to log in too many times? Has someone tried to sell my funds or close the account? Please tell me.”
She says she cannot tell me because I am not a verified account holder. At this point, I am floored. I’m not upset at her. I’m sure she’s simply following protocol. But honestly…. WTF? Was my social security number not enough to at least be told WHY MY ACCOUNT WAS LOCKED?!
My biggest peeve is that during the conversation, I was asked if I needed to buy, sell, or trade anything in my account. This is something I cannot even access when I log into my E*Trade account online, so why would they allow me to do it over the phone when I am not a verified account holder? Does this make any sense? NO. What if I had a million dollars in there and I was not the actual account holder. My entire retirement could be sold out from under me!
My Decision to Switch
I march back into work and talk to my favorite investing comrade (the one who initially asked me if I was saving for retirement) about the situation. It was at this point that he again recommended using Charles Schwab because they have walk-in locations everywhere and if something goes wrong, help is never too far away. Now, I admit I probably should have taken his advice in the beginning and just went with Schwab, but I’ve always been a “forge your own path” type of person and tend to not follow other people’s recommendations. You would think when it came to money I would DEFINITELY follow recommendations.
Needless to say, I feel like a fool. Even after I sent in the driver’s license, my image (though very clear) was not good enough for them and they requested that I send another.
The process is still not complete. But when I get this all worked out, I am closing my IRA at E*Trade (thankfully without penalty because I’ve only lost since getting into the market) and switching to Charles Schwab.
Update | 9/3/2015
Even though I sent a clear photo of my license (front and back) plus the verification letter, they said they could not read it enough to verify my identity and that they now need my passport. My passport is from childhood, so I told them I would prefer to not send that in since I’ve been married, and they said “OH, just attach your marriage license to it.” ABSOLUTELY NOT. I will not do that. Of course, I got very upset with the woman on the phone because this was my sixth call to E*Trade in the past two days. I know it’s not her fault, but I did hang up on her. I went ahead and sent in the photos of the social security card and attached a threatening letter. We will see what happens from here. They have not called me, so maybe the letter created a problem.
Update | 9/4/2015
The account is no longer locked. I had to call and answer all the verification questions (name, social, address, DOB, email etc), and then the rep asked me if I I had logged in on so-and-so day with mobile. Of course, I had logged in on so-and-so day on mobile, so they locked my account for no reason, simply because I was using a mobile app at a different IP address than my home (a.k.a. friend’s wi-fi). So there you have it.
I’m sure every brokerage firm has their issues, but my friend has a point when he says you can always just go to a location and ask questions when you work with someone who has several brick and mortar locations. None of this phone call bull. None of the dialect/language barriers. None of this answering questions and faxing or emailing documents for verification. I’ve read a lot of bad things about E*Trade since opening my Roth IRA, especially in relation to randomly locked accounts and losing access to your money. I should have done more research before jumping in.
One thing is for sure, I will be closing my account with E*Trade as soon as I can.