(From left) Clarissa, Tiffany, and Norma Trammell discuss their frustrations with NetSpend’s customer service with FOX19’s Matthew Nordin.
MIDDLETOWN, OH (FOX19) -
It's not an easy time for Norma Trammell. She's lost her
job, has to work temp jobs, is behind on her rent, and the utilities are about
to be shut-off. So the $9,677 refund she was expecting from the IRS would've
come in handy by now.
"I need it real bad," she told FOX19 inside her youngest
daughter's home in Middletown.
Norma's oldest daughter, Tiffany, used TurboTax in late
January to do her mom's taxes. One option TurboTax offers for getting your
refund is through a prepaid card from a company called NetSpend, which is based
in Austin, Texas. Prepaid cards are often the better option for Americans who
don't have access to a bank account. But in this case, Tiffany thought it would
"It's quicker to get it put on the card than waiting for it
to get deposited to your account or a check being cut to you," she said.
That's exactly the pitch NetSpend makes on its website. But if
you look further, you'll discover that what NetSpend is claiming is that
it's faster than waiting on a refund check to be mailed to you. However, the
IRS and state treasury departments have been offering direct deposit for years.
And according to H&R Block, people usually get
their federal refund within 8-15 days.
It turns out, NetSpend wasn't faster for Norma Trammel. Six
months later, she's still waiting for her refund. Company spokesman Rob Ward tells
FOX19 that a fraud alert popped-up because of confusion over Norma's address.
(Tiffany used her address as the mailing address.) So to prevent identity
theft, NetSpend put a block on the card.
The Trammels don't quibble over that. However, they have a problem with how
NetSpend's customer service dealt with the issue from there. They say their
situation is similar to the hundreds of people who have complained to ConsumerAffairs.com
and the Better
Business Bureau. Stories they saw after their mom ran into problems.
"I read some of the stories and it was the same m.o., the
same thing," said Norma's youngest daughter, Clarissa. "They did the same
thing. They would put a block on the money. And then they would refuse to
release it until you sent all your personal identification over to them. And
then after that, you pretty much never heard from them again."
In the Trammell's case, they can't believe that NetSpend
customer service reps were fine speaking to Norma and her daughters on the
phone but would still not release the money, despite the family faxing copies
of Norma's Social Security card and driver's license from an Office Depot, a
fax which the family showed FOX19.
In a phone call with FOX19, Ward said, "I hate that happened
He later added, "I'm sorry it did."
Ward also e-mailed FOX19 a statement explaining that
NetSpend is very concerned about identity theft. Ward added that "we also
remain vigilant in our efforts to create secure methods of fund access and
prevent any fraud on behalf of our customers. Based on customer feedback we are
working on a more streamlined process for requesting documents for verification
during tax season."
That's something many consumers say is badly needed. As for
the Trammells, they say they will never do business with NetSpend again.
NetSpend's spokesman says that his company was in contact
with the IRS this week and the agency is mailing a refund check to Norma
Trammell after NetSpend returned the money to Uncle Sam. An IRS spokeswoman
said that due to federal confidentiality laws she is not able to comment about
As of now, it appears TurboTax will continue to do business
with NetSpend, which TurboTax spokeswoman Ashley McMahon calls "one of the
leading prepaid debit card companies in the industry."