All San Francisco resident Margaret Bruno wanted to do was pay off her credit card bill to avoid any more fees.
"I was out of work at the time, looking for a job. It was a very frustrating time for me, a very scary time," said Bruno.
Her bank was sending automatic payments to her HSBC credit account every month for two years. Her debt was down to just $137 -- when suddenly Bruno noticed a late fee on her credit card bill. She called HSBC right away.
"I was charged a late fee, but I wasn't late, I paid and I paid through my bank," said Bruno.
HSBC said she'd have to send proof of that payment. It took a week but she got the returned check, HSBC did reverse the late fee, and everything was fine, except it happened again.
"They were saying that they didn't receive my payment, and then they would charge me a late fee," said Bruno.
Once again, HSBC said she was delinquent. Again she sent proof of her payment, HSBC reversed the late fee, and once again, everything seemed fine -- until she got the next bill -- it had a late fee too. So did the next bill and the one after that.
"So every month I had to go through a big deal about proving that I paid, and then they would reverse the charges and send me an apology letter," said Bruno.
Still the bank kept recording late payments and soon began calling her cellphone.
"HSBC would be calling me about 15 times a day and when I would straighten it out, they would say, 'Sorry, this will take two days for our computer to take you off the calls,'" said Bruno.
Bruno finally paid the last $15 of her debt and called HSBC to close the account.
"They apologized to me and they said I had a 0 balance at that point," said Bruno.
And yet, when her next statement came, it said no payment was received and she owed a $30 late fee.
"But I gave up at this point. I just had to have a positive attitude about looking for a job. I couldn't go through this anymore," said Bruno.
She admits she was so exasperated she didn't dispute the bill. Late charges piled up and the final blow was HSBC sold her account to a debt purchaser, which tried to collect $103 on her account. She tried to explain she didn't owe that money.
"But they weren't nice and they didn't believe me at all," said Bruno.
The unpaid account glares on her credit report. She says it blocked her from buying a car.
"So I said I'm calling Channel 7, you know, Michael Finney," said Bruno.
We contacted HSBC, pointing out she apparently didn't owe a debt that the bank has now sold. HSBC quickly unraveled her case and indeed it agreed to clear the debt and her credit report.
HSBC said privacy rules prevent disclosing details but a spokesperson told us by phone: "We made sure that this matter is not going to have a creditworthiness impact. We have also reached out to the debt collection company that purchased the debt, and we are working to resolve that debt and bring the whole matter to a close."
"I am just very happy that I'm looking at this file and someone is helping me," said Bruno.
HSBC told Bruno the problem began because another customer had a similar name and account number so her payments were routed to the wrong account. To avoid these types of problems, make sure you put your full account number on your checks when you make a payment.