‘No, No, No. We Can’t’: Attorney Says He Experienced ‘Banking While Black’ After a San Diego Bank of America Teller Accused Him of Stealing His $12K Check

A San Diego man is accusing a local Bank of America branch of mistreating him because of the color of his skin after they refused to cash his five-figure check. 

Attorney John Pittman III told KPBS that it was a case of “banking while Black” when he walked into a Bank of America located on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach, California, trying to cash a $12,000 insurance settlement check. Pittman said he was met with resistance and even accused of stealing during an incident that took place January of last year. 

Attorney John Pittman III’s Facebook page

Pittman received the check from Geico following a car accident, drawn from a Bank of America account. During the transaction, he showed the teller his paperwork from the insurance company and three forms of identification — a driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate — verifying that the check belonged to him and was valid.

However, soon afterward, the teller left and called upon the assistant manager, who said she couldn’t cash it because his name on the check didn’t include the “III” suffix after his name, although it appeared on his identifications and Geico paperwork. 

The lawyer later suggested that they call the insurance company to clarify any confusion surrounding the validity of the check, but still, they refused, allegedly telling him, “no, no, no. We can’t.” The assistant manager added, “Even if we call to verify, we have no way to know that we verified.”

Pittman’s attempt at calling the insurance company did not help either. Although the representative offered to fax or email any documents that would assist in cashing the lawyer’s check, the assistant manager said that it wouldn’t help and that she would call the bank’s branch manager instead. However, when she returned, she claimed that she had called the authorities and accused the man of “trying to steal the money from the John Pittman.”

Advised by the insurance rep not to further engage, Pittman, who worked in the finance industry for nearly two decades as a loan processor and financial advisor, subsequently left and ultimately cashed the check at his Texas-based credit union. 

Bill Hallidin, a spokesman for the bank, told the news outlet that the employee and assistant manager followed proper protocols but noted that the police were never actually contacted. “Given the name on the check didn’t match the name on the identification and the individual wasn’t a Bank of America client, our team followed the bank’s policy and declined to cash the check during the individual’s visit in January 2020,” Hallidin said. “This is standard industry practice, and it is based on best practices to protect against potential fraud.”

Meanwhile, Ed Golding, an executive director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Golub Center for Finance and Banking, said race, along with the check amount and the fact that Pittman was not a customer with the bank, all factored into the incident. However, he did not condone the manager’s actions.  

“It’s just much easier to try to find either a polite or impolite or a way of saying, go away, we don’t want to serve you,” Golding said, noting that a check over $10,000 would almost always garner more suspicion. “It seems like in the facts of this case. It was a very inappropriate way of saying ‘go away, we don’t want to serve you at all.'” 

In May 2021, a Bank of America representative reached out to Pittman, echoing the statement made by Hallidin, though he had hoped that they would’ve apologized instead.

“It makes you feel two inches tall,” Pittman told KPBS. “It makes you feel targeted. I didn’t stick around for the police to come. But I guess if I had stayed there or the police would have shown up, the situation could have gotten ugly, you know.” 

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