Blind man caught in voicemail limbo with bank

August 8, 2011 7:46:49 PM PDT
Trying to get an actual human to answer a phone at a big company can be frustrating -- doubly so for a Bay Area man who is blind.

Two of the biggest complaints among consumers are terminal holds on the phone and pesky fees. A Novato man contacted 7 On Your Side after getting a dose of both from the same company.

Carter Collins lives alone and enjoys his independence. He likes doing things like paying bills himself.

"I'm blind and the best access for me to pay my bills is the telephone, not the Internet, not a letter, not a stamp, not a mailbox, but a telephone," said Collins.

Collins has been paying his credit card bill by phone for seven years, but last month something in Wells Fargo's phone system was different.

"In previous years, I would dial my 800 number, enter the last four digits of my number and it would default, it would default to a person. I would get a person very quickly online and be able to straighten it out," said Collins.

Not this time. He was left on terminal hold. For three straight days he tried to call and the results were the same each time.

"I tried for three days to get in and I couldn't. I got assessed a $25 late fee and when I tried to negotiate that away, even at the supervisory level, I was denied," said Collins.

Bryan Bashin is executive director of Lighthouse For the Blind in San Francisco. He understands Collins' frustrations.

"What we find to be helpful is to talk to a human and it doesn't matter whether it's a human on the street giving directions or a human on the phone helping us pay our bills," said Bashin.

But he also says the blind have powerful new tools to assist them, including learning how to navigate the web on their own.

"We're actually living in the day for the first time blind people can have very powerful control over their own finances, payments and financial operations," said Bashin.

We informed Collins of training opportunities at Lighthouse For The Blind and he's open to it. We also contacted Wells Fargo. The company declined an on camera interview and would not answer any specific questions about this particular case. However, it says it's working with Collins to have a better understanding of his situation.

A spokesperson told 7 On Your Side customers can hit zero at any time to reach a Wells Fargo customer service agent even though that option is not available on its phone tree. The bank agreed to refund the late fee to Collins. It's also made improvements to the phone system.

"You can get through. You can make your payment," said Collins.

A good website for learning how to get through the voicemail systems of various companies is

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