Last month, the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) issued a community alert about an alarming trend of letters sent by Bank of America, Chase, and other financial institutions to customers. 

 

The purpose of these letters range from requesting information to notifying customers about the bank’s decision to close their account.  In rare cases, accounts have been closed without explanation and funds were not released to customers.  These letters seem to target customers of Muslim or Middle Eastern descent, particularly those born in U.S sanctioned countries, such as Syria and Iran.
 
Since issuing that alert, we have continued to receive reports of these and other potentially discriminatory banking practices.  Federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age in credit transactions. There are also California state laws, such as the Unruh Act, which provide broader protection by prohibiting discrimination by banks and other businesses in California on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.
 
If you have received a similar letter or have had your account closed (checking, savings, business), here are some steps you can take to protect yourself:
  • Act Quickly – If the bank has given you a deadline for providing information or has told you a date on which it will close your accounts, take action before the deadline.
     
  • Get in Touch With CAIR’s Civil Rights Department – You can reach us by email atcairlacivilrights@cair.com or phone at (714) 776-1177.
     
  • Contact Your Bank for More Information – If you are unable to get information over the phone, visit your local branch and ask to speak to a branch manager. 

    • In the event that your account has been closed and you have funds or assets still held by the bank, a demand for the release of your funds will usually suffice.  After speaking to your bank, if they refuse to release your funds, you may submit an application for the release of your funds through the U.S. Treasury Department by filling out this form.
       
  • File a complaint – If you believe you have been the victim of discriminatory bank practices, you can file complaints with federal and state consumer protection agencies to encourage the government to investigate. You can reach the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here or at (855) 411-CFPB.  You may also file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or call (800) 884-1684

 
DISCLAIMER: This material is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For legal issues that arise, please contact CAIR’s Civil Rights department directly for further assistance.