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Old 04.05.2012, 08:52
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My Swiss bank took my money!

Here is my story, I hope those of you who take the time to read it can give me any relevant information to help me out. I would greatly appreciate your input.

I live in the US, and my parents and I opened an account with a Swiss bank (which shall remain anonymous) during 2008. Its an account that doesn't pay any interest, everything was declared and done legally. The bank wouldn't really charge any fees, and if they did they were very minimal, maybe $100 or $200 per year maximum. All of a sudden in late 2011 our statement showed a withdrawal for a sum of nearly $3,000. None of us ever withdrew money from the account. After the sum of nearly $3,000 was removed, we were starting to be charged around $450 per quarter. Needless to say we closed the account just a couple of weeks ago.

In January of this year, the bank's liaison in the US (who had opened the account for us) called my mother and explained to her that there are new banking policies and if we wanted we could close our account and not be charged. This was after we had already been charged thousands of dollars. My mother happened to be on vacation while receiving this call, and she was very busy afterwards and simply did not have the time or energy to deal with it.

Now, I had no idea any of this was happening, as my mother was managing the account and she has a million different things on her plate. She told me about this situation last week after we had already closed our Swiss account and transferred the money back to our US account (with part of our money missing of course).

I emailed the bank rep and asked about the large discrepancy on our statement and they said they would prefer to talk to me on the phone. I called them a few days ago and the conversation was interesting for a few reasons.

They explained these sums were deducted because of the new banking regulations the US government was putting on Swiss banks in regards to their American accounts, forcing Swiss banks to regularly audit their US accounts. She said the bank absorbed the cost of these accounts for a while, but there came a point where they had to pass the cost onto their clients. Ok, thats believable. But whats interesting is we never received ANY letter, whether through standard mail or email, that there were new policies and that these new policies would cost us money. All we had was that informal phone call in January after we had already been charged thousands of dollars. Not a single warning prior to the excessive charges.

When I asked the bank rep why they never sent us any notice of policy changes, and why we never had the option of closing our account PRIOR to the $3,000 charge, she gave me an answer that made no sense to me: She claimed the new regulations prevented the bank from initiating contact with US clients! She actually admitted they never notified us, but said they were prohibited from doing so! What a load of BS!

I responded by telling her that the bank sends us statements, and that those statements are a form of communication. So why didn't they include a letter indicating their new policies, especially when it was going to cost me thousands of dollars? She used the same excuse of "we were not allowed to do that".

Now get a load of this. I pressed the issue with her further, asking her questions that made her claims seem ridiculous, and I think she started getting the point. About 45 minutes into the conversation we ended with her saying "Let me talk to some people and see if I can at least get you a partial reimbursement". Literally 5 minutes after I hung up, my mother (who was listening to the entire conversation in silence) gets a call on her cellphone. It was the bank's liaison in the US, the one who gave my mother the half-ass call in January after we had already been charged. He told my mother he would be able to give us $2,000 back, and the issue was partly my mother's fault because he had "warned" her in January. My mother simply said ok ok, thank you so much, and hung up.

My mother was relieved to get $2,000 back, the poor woman has to deal with bankers and insurance agents on a daily basis and she simply doesn't have the energy for a fight. I, on the other hand, have plenty of energy and am FURIOUS because I feel that we are entitled to the entire $3,000 withdrawal, and I think I even have a strong case to collect the other $1,000 of subsequent charges since the bank is obligated to send me written notice of new terms on my account, which they failed to do. They violated their fiduciary responsibility towards my account, and they realized their mistake and quickly tried to bribe us with $2,000, which is only half of the money they took. I'm not satisfied that someone took "only" $2,000 from me instead of $4,000. I'm even more pissed that they tried to bribe me into silence. My mentality is this: If, 5 months after the fact, it only took them 5 minutes to reimburse $2,000, let them spend another 5 minutes and reimburse the remaining $2,000.

I called an attorney earlier today, and this is someone who knows my mother and is looking out for our best interests. They told me I have a very strong case. However, for the relatively small amount of money involved as well as the international character of the lawsuit, it would not make economic sense for me. The attorney said if he was in my shoes, he would contact the bank and play a little hardball with them, let them know I've spoken to an attorney, and see if I can get the full amount. This is exactly what I had in mind, so his advice confirmed my strategy, and this will be my next step.

If there is anything I am misunderstanding about the situation, or if you have any advice, it would be greatly appreciated. What would you do if you were in my shoes?
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  #2  
Old 04.05.2012, 08:57
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

Which bank was it??
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Old 04.05.2012, 09:04
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

If you want to keep trying to get $3000 back you probably shouldn't have accepted the settlement of $2000.

If I was in your shoes I'd forget about it now and be happy that you got most of it back.
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Old 04.05.2012, 09:15
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

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If you want to keep trying to get $3000 back you probably shouldn't have accepted the settlement of $2000.

If I was in your shoes I'd forget about it now and be happy that you got most of it back.
Yes, this is Switzerland. We earn good money and it's only $2000. Just do an extra hour of overtime to recover the money and don't complain about crappy customer service.
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Old 04.05.2012, 09:18
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

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Yes, this is Switzerland. We earn good money and it's only $2000. Just do an extra hour of overtime to recover the money and don't complain about crappy customer service.
I dont think they ever lived in Switzerland...or worked there... If you read the 1st post it says they are in the USA...

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Old 04.05.2012, 09:36
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

It all sounds a little odd, the Swiss Banks would never have opened an account for someone who had just $3000 & lived in the US.

I have seen adverts charging $750 to open a post account for a foreigner so anything is possible....
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Old 04.05.2012, 09:43
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

As they where being charged 200 per year for "management" costs they likely had a lot more in that account that that did not bother them....
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Old 04.05.2012, 09:55
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

The fact that they did not want to put anything in writing sounds suspicious. It would be logical also to write to the relevant US regulatory bodies about this. Use Google to see if others have had problems with the bank (e.g. search for "bank name" + I, my, me).
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Old 04.05.2012, 09:58
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

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The fact that they did not want to put anything in writing sounds suspicious. It would be logical also to write to the relevant US regulatory bodies about this. Use Google to see if others have had problems with the bank (e.g. search for "bank name" + I, my, me).
Well, some banks have had services, involving not-sending paperwork across the US border... just a (malicious) thought...
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Old 04.05.2012, 10:00
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

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I live in the US, and my parents and I opened an account with a Swiss bank (which shall remain anonymous) during 2008. Its an account that doesn't pay any interest, everything was declared and done legally. The bank wouldn't really charge any fees, and if they did they were very minimal, maybe $100 or $200 per year maximum. All of a sudden in late 2011 our statement showed a withdrawal for a sum of nearly $3,000. None of us ever withdrew money from the account. After the sum of nearly $3,000 was removed, we were starting to be charged around $450 per quarter. Needless to say we closed the account just a couple of weeks ago.

In January of this year, the bank's liaison in the US (who had opened the account for us)
The bank's liaison - does he work one of the bank's offices in the US or is he only a referral guy.

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When I asked the bank rep why they never sent us any notice of policy changes, and why we never had the option of closing our account PRIOR to the $3,000 charge, she gave me an answer that made no sense to me: She claimed the new regulations prevented the bank from initiating contact with US clients! She actually admitted they never notified us, but said they were prohibited from doing so! What a load of BS!
She is right - if the bank is not registered in the US it cannot solicit clients on US soil.

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I responded by telling her that the bank sends us statements, and that those statements are a form of communication.
Do you receive statements straight from the bank (with Swiss postage) or from your liaison?
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Old 04.05.2012, 10:07
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

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Well, some banks have had services, involving not-sending paperwork across the US border... just a (malicious) thought...
200CHF a year is generally the cost of holding all mail at the bank for the customer on a numbered account.
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Old 04.05.2012, 11:30
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

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When I asked the bank rep why they never sent us any notice of policy changes...She claimed the new regulations prevented the bank from initiating contact with US clients! She actually admitted they never notified us, but said they were prohibited from doing so! What a load of BS!
The lady lied to you. There is no US law that prohibits a foreign bank from sending you a statement or a fee schedule. The US-CH tax treaty clearly defines the criteria for "doing business in..." another country, and sending correspondence is /not/ one of them! The "liason" who helped open the account is in the US, and he certainly could have sent you a fee schedule.

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...if you have any advice, it would be greatly appreciated. What would you do if you were in my shoes?
For the amount of money involved, an attorney is counter-productive. However, you do have the ability to put some pressure on the bank.

1. Name the bank, and the employee, both here and on any other forums you join.

2. Name the US liason (the company and the person).

3. Write a formal letter to the bank's CEO, request a refund of your remaining $1k, and state that if he does not reply within 10 days, you will file a complaint with the IRS and ask that his bank be removed from the IRS' list of "Participating FFI's" because of the bank's fraudulent conduct. Point out that if the IRS does remove his bank from that list, all interest it earns on US securities will be subject to a 30% withholding. Now, neither you nor I nor the bank president knows if the IRS will do that....but it just might. Does he wish to take the chance?

If you not resolve the problem with the bank, do file a complaint with the IRS. It keeps a list of "problem banks", and you just might get this one added to that list. The IRS will thank you; the bank president, perhaps not.

4. In many countries (e.g., France), a bank cannot levy a charge unless it is on their tarif (price list), and you have been given a copy. Keep this thread alive on this forum, until someone reads it who knows Swiss law on this topic. My guess is, the bank has violated Swiss law by not giving you their amended fee schedule before debiting the account.

5. Write to the US "liason" and demand your $1k from him. The fact that he called re the $2k refund makes him a party to the transaction. If no resolution, then: (a) If he is in your state or a nearby state, file a small claims suit against him for conspiracy to defraud. (No attorney needed, small filing fee, and his legal costs will top $10k before the court date. He will most likely settle.) (b) File a complaint against the liason office for fraud (theft of client money); file it with the banking department in that state, and with the FDIC & Federal Reserve (assuming his company is a national bank).

The time to write the two letters: perhaps 30 minutes. If it works, it's a good hourly rate. The time to write the two complaints: about the same, and you will feel better.
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Old 04.05.2012, 13:08
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

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The lady lied to you. There is no US law that prohibits a foreign bank from sending you a statement or a fee schedule. The US-CH tax treaty clearly defines the criteria for "doing business in..." another country, and sending correspondence is /not/ one of them! The "liason" who helped open the account is in the US, and he certainly could have sent you a fee schedule..
You're entirely right - or actually you would be if the Swiss bank is registered as a financial services provider that is. Considering none of them other than Pictet are...

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4. In many countries (e.g., France), a bank cannot levy a charge unless it is on their tarif (price list), and you have been given a copy. Keep this thread alive on this forum, until someone reads it who knows Swiss law on this topic. My guess is, the bank has violated Swiss law by not giving you their amended fee schedule before debiting the account.
Your guess is again wrong. If the client has signed "hold all mail" instructions then the mail is considered delivered and the change in tariff is effective.

Considering the holder is US resident AND the account was opened in 2008 i REALLY doubt the bank was sending the statements directly ^^

Last edited by Shorrick Mk2; 04.05.2012 at 13:31.
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Old 04.05.2012, 13:26
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

I have never heard of such a thing! I would keep pushing till you got all of your money back. You sure that the "rep" in the states isn't in on it? Just wondering!
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Old 04.05.2012, 13:30
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

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I have never heard of such a thing! I would keep pushing till you got all of your money back. You sure that the "rep" in the states isn't in on it? Just wondering!
I suspect we have not heard the FULL story behind all of this.
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Old 04.05.2012, 14:44
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

"...you do have the ability to put some pressure on the bank"

Why not add the Ombudsman lark?
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Old 04.05.2012, 17:33
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

Yep, my New Zealand bank account also got plundered. Quite common apparently.
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Old 04.05.2012, 18:49
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

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Yep, my New Zealand bank account also got plundered. Quite common apparently.
What? Why?
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Old 04.05.2012, 18:52
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

I am curious about the OP's financail situation: a couple of people have suggested that (s)he contact the IRS. I am actually wondering whether the money was originally sent to a Swiss a numbered account to avoid paying the US IRS.
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Old 04.05.2012, 19:31
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Re: My Swiss bank took my money!

Yes, I was wondering that too, biff. If they live in the US, why would they want a bank account in Switzerland, pay in $3,000 and just leave it sitting there?

Was it even a dollar bank account? Can you have one of those in Switzerland? I know they do Euros as well as the CHF, but do they open bank accounts in other currencies? If not, then presumably the dollars were converted into Francs on receipt and given the slide in the exchange rate I'd be surprised if it was worth $3,000 today.
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