This company won't go into my Hall of Shame

For the simple reason that I won't ever do business with them.

Harrisdirect, a online brokerage, refused to let a potential customer open an account with them - giving multiple (false) answers to the reason why, until a news reporter contacted them (Patriot Act halts would-be investor).

Shortly after he graduated from college in May, French Clements of San Jose, Calif., tried to open an online brokerage account with Harrisdirect, where his stepfather has an account.

A day after he completed the online application, however, he got a brief e-mail from Harrisdirect saying, "We regret to inform you that we are unable to approve your application at this time: The customer's identity not properly authenticated per the USA Patriot Act."

And the reason? (all emphasis mine)

At Harrisdirect, prospective customers must give the brokerage firm permission to access their credit report. At the end of the online application, customers are asked four multiple-choice questions drawn from their credit report at Equifax, one of three major credit bureaus.

They might be asked which bank holds their home loan and the size of their monthly payment. If they answer incorrectly, they could be rejected.

After Clements was spurned, he called Harrisdirect. A service rep said he must have answered the questions from his credit report wrong. But Clements says he never saw any questions from his credit report.

First wrong answer from HarrisDirect.

He applied a second time. Again he saw no questions from his credit report, and again he got an identical rejection citing the Patriot Act.

I called Harrisdirect on his behalf. Executive Managing Director Mike Hogan looked into Clements' application and said he must have bungled the credit-report questions.

When I said Clements never saw those questions, Hogan said that was next to impossible.

Second wrong answer from HarrisDirect.

"We're happy to see if there was a burp in the system that caused this problem," he said. "I'd be pretty surprised if that was the issue."

Later, a spokeswoman from Harrisdirect called back with a new explanation: "The address he was using did not match what was in his history with Equifax, so he didn't get the four questions."

First correct answer from HarrisDirect.

After graduating from Fordham University in New York, Clements moved back to San Jose.

"He never got to the authentication because his address didn't compute," says John Ford, chief privacy officer with Equifax.

Hogan says people who are rejected online can mail in a copy of their license or passport to verify their identity. Clements says Harrisdirect never suggested that.

Yet another example of a stupid corporation blaming its customer for its own failures.

Bye-bye, Harrisdirect.

Written by Andrew Ittner in misc on Sun 07 September 2003. Tags: business, commentary, technology