By Doug Ireland
---- — DERRY — Last spring, Mary Porter went to get her bank card and discovered it was missing.
The 85-year-old Derry woman said she was relieved when an employee at Sovereign Bank in Salem got her a new card and checking account, saying the old account would be closed to prevent any problems.
But in April 2012, the problems were only beginning.
They only came to an end yesterday after a reporter started asking questions.
Mary and her husband, Robert, 83, said it took nearly a year for the account to be closed.
The couple was charged $245 in overdraft fees because the bank tried to withdraw money from the wrong account to cover the checks the couple wrote.
Meanwhile, Sovereign withheld several hundred dollars of the couple’s money to pay the seven overdraft charges — each for $35, Robert said.
“It may not seem like a big deal, but when you are on Social Security, it is,” he said. “They said they would take care of it, but they didn’t.”
The couple said they mostly rely on their $2,000 in Social Security checks each month to pay their living expenses. They also rely on Medicare to foot their medical costs.
Robert said he has a pacemaker and stents after suffering three heart attacks. Mary has respiratory trouble and needs to be hooked up to an oxygen tank when she goes to bed at night.
The Porters’ three children live all around the country, so the elderly couple has had to resolve the problem on their own. At least a half-dozen visits to Sovereign’s Salem and Derry branches made little difference, they said.
Months ago, an employee at the Salem branch was apologetic and said the problem would be resolved, Robert said. But the overdraft fees and notices kept coming, he said.
The account was finally closed earlier this winter, but the couple was still waiting yesterday morning for a refund of the money that was withheld.
The Porters tried to take care of the problem through the Derry branch, but again had no luck.
After several phone calls and four visits to branch, the couple said they received numerous apologies and promises, but no resolution.
The latest visit to the Derry branch was March 8, when Robert said they were told the branch could not issue a refund, but would check with other Sovereign officials.
Mary received a call from the bank Saturday morning, informing her a refund could not be issued because too much time had elapsed.
Three Sovereign officials said they could not discuss the case when contacted by a reporter yesterday, including Derry branch manager John Morrow. He referred calls to the bank’s corporate spokesman.
But not long after Sovereign officials refused to comment, Robert said they received a call saying the money would be refunded.
Robert was pleased, but not happy it took 11 months to resolve the matter.
“He called and said they finally got the permission,” Robert said. “I said, ‘Are you going to pay a fee for your mistakes?’ He didn’t answer. This shouldn’t have taken a year.”