System malfunction

By Seth Daniel

For the Free Press

Somewhere, nowhere near here, a computer glitch occurred a few weeks ago.

It was a small mistake by worldwide standards.

But, it was a small mistake that – along with some cruel fate – set in motion a set of circumstances that no one could seemingly stop.

What that little mistake set in motion put East Boston resident Madeline Cincotta through a gauntlet of phone calls to her bank, becoming a witness in a Revere bank robbery and getting a $200 ticket immediately after cooperating with police in helping to solve the robbery.

It’s the same frustrating story so many of us have faced within our modern lives of online banking, computerized accounts, endless bank fees, and corporations so big that there is no one who can seemingly help solve a small, snowballing problem.

This snowballing glitch, all told, cost her nearly $1,000.

Cincotta said that she is retired, but does quite a bit of selling on the Internet with eBay. One day last month, eBay made a mistake and erroneously took more than $100 out of her Citizen’s Bank account.

She noticed the glitch while browsing her bank statement online and sipping a cup of coffee she had just bought with her debit card – a cup of coffee that she soon realized was going to cost her a lot of money in overdraft bank fees if she didn’t solve the problem immediately.

Most of us have been in the same such situation – trying to correct a problem before the computerized wheels of corporate banking begins to tear holes in our bank balances.

Cincotta got on the phone and said she had a great conversation with a man from Citizen’s who said there would be no fees assessed until the problem was ironed out.

That promise didn’t pan out, she said, and that day fees started appearing on her account.

Once again, she tried to straighten it out on the phone and was assured by Citizen’s Bank representatives that everything would be fine. The fees would be credited to her and she was to mail in some paperwork showing that there had been an error.

She trusted the problem was over.

The next day, she realized that the problem wasn’t corrected. Bank fees were skyrocketing and totaling some $300.

Again, the gauntlet of the phone produced another person to talk to – this time a consumer advocate who told her to ignore the fees and everything would be okay. She was even advised that she could use the account and she could go food shopping.

So she did.

She went to Wonderland Stop & Shop in Revere and bought some food. However, she got a little antsy when she saw that the fees were still climbing and now in the $500 range.

Conveniently, there was a Citizen’s branch in the supermarket and she decided to take up her case with them face to face.

It required a two hour wait, one in which she was shoulder to shoulder with a man who eventually robbed the bank right before it was her turn to air out her grievances.

“I went there to get some help and got caught up in the middle of a bank robbery,” she said. “I was waiting forever next to a person who was waiting forever to rob the bank.”

She said that she gave statements to police and helped them as much as possible, but never got to take up her case about the bank fees.

Even so, Citizen’s Bank assured her later that her help with the robbery wouldn’t be grounds for revoking the hundreds of dollars in fees that had accumulated.

“I have heard there are rewards for helping solve bank robberies, but instead of being rewarded, I was ripped off $700 or $800 by the bank I did a good deed for,” said Cincotta. “Some people left and didn’t want to help. I told them that when this guy goes to court, they’ll be using me. The least they could do is take care of these ridiculous fees. But no, that wasn’t the case. They even told me the government wouldn’t let them refund my money because of some technicality. I wish I hadn’t helped them now.”

With the bank robbery over, Cincotta decided it was time to get out of Revere and call it a day.

It wasn’t that easy though.

On her way back home, in front of the Mass General clinic, she saw a Revere Police officer writing a ticket. She went around the officer and a host of double-parked shuttle buses.

Immediately, the sirens went on.

She pulled aside and thought the officer was chasing someone else, but he was after her.

“They said that there was a pedestrian that I didn’t stop for and that I was going to get a ticket,” she said. “After I waited quite some time for him to finish writing another ticket, the officer gave me a $200 ticket. There wasn’t any pedestrian that anyone around me saw. I filed a complaint and the police said just to fight it to court.”

All in all, Cincotta’s journey has ended up costing her more than $1,000, put her through a host of adventures, and made her spend untold hours on the phone all because of a glitch in some far off computer.

And what does she have to show for it; well, remember the cup of coffee she was sipping when she discovered it all?

“That cup of coffee ended up costing me more than $60,” she said.

Were it not so relatable to all of our lives that are ridiculously dominated by insane corporate policies and unreasonable bureaucracies, one would think it was the fantasy of some novelist.

“I got so wrapped up in this little drama and I felt the events of it all were so hysterically funny that it wasn’t really funny,” said Cincotta. “I will probably end up having to pay over $1,000 in bank fees and tickets out of my pocket and I honestly can say that I didn’t do anything wrong to accumulate or start any of this in motion. It just started going and now here I am.”

Horatio Alger, Franz Kafka and George Orwell – meet Madeline Cincotta.

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