It’s Like Talking to a Deaf Man …

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – In a class action for the Internet age, a deaf man claims a prepaid debit card company refused to communicate with him by email, but kept telling him to call it on the phone – leaving him without a way to pay his medical bills.
     Richard Halavais accuses AccountNow of a “systematic pattern of discrimination,” unfair business practices and civil rights violations. Halavias, disabled by a stroke, says the company refused to accommodate his requests by email to secure a new card so he could pay for a stay at a rehabilitation center in National City.
     In his federal complaint, Halavais says he is “unable to effectively communicate verbally” on the phone because of a stroke. He says his disability checks, his only source of income, were paid on an AccountNow prepaid card. He contacted the company to order a new card because his old one was due to expire.
     AccountNow, based in San Ramon, provides financial services for people “who do not have established banking relationships,” according to the company website. It calls itself the “only online financial resource center for unbanked consumers.”
     Halavais claims that without access to his disability checks, he “could not survive outside the facility,” and had to hire an attorney to help him get a new card.
     Even then, Halavais says, AccountNow asked his attorney “to fax a power of attorney and photo identification to their office before discussing the account or simple issue of a replacement card.”
     When he did get a new card, Halavais says, he couldn’t use an ATM with his old PIN number or a new temporary PIN, and his account was locked after several failed attempts to get money.
     By that time Halavais was in a rest home and needed access to his money to pay for his medicine, he says.
     He says he first contacted AccountNow by email on May 21 and it didn’t resolve the issue until July.
     “On July 10, 2012 plaintiff was finally able to access the money deposited into his account, but only after numerous phone calls by plaintiff’s counsel, because defendant refused to aid plaintiff by e-mail,” the complaint states.
     “Throughout this entire course of events, even after the risk management department was involved and informed of the situation, defendant did not present any alternative methods of communication by which plaintiff could have resolved the issues with defendant.”
     Halavais says that he had to pay the rehab facility more than $11,600 for “food and necessities” after prolonging his stay.
     Halavais is represented by Joshua Swigart with Hyde & Swigart. He seeks damages for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Unruh Civil Rights Act and unfair business practices.
     AccountNow did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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