Bamboozled: Paying the price to protect

Andrew Cogswell doesn’t have a lot of free time to fight bureaucracy.

The South River man is the father of Kelly Cogswell, 6, who is terminally ill with Mitochondrial Disease/Leigh Syndrome. Kelly lives with a tracheotomy, a feeding tube and uses a ventilator to survive.

“Her diagnosis, a year after her birth, was six months to a year,” Cogswell said. “She receives 24-hour-a-day nursing care and has made it this far only through the highly qualified nurses we have.”

That level of care is very, very costly.

In April 2010, the Brick Township Policemen’s Benevolent Association held a basketball game for Kelly’s benefit. The group raised more than $20,000, Cogswell said.

Organizers took the funds to the TD Bank branch on Burnt Tavern Road in Brick, opened an account and deposited the proceeds.

“The funds were used to pay for expenses related to Kelly’s care,” Cogswell said. “At the time we didn’t have 24-hour nursing care, so we frequently had to pay nurses out-of-pocket so we could work. We also used the money for the co-pays for Kelly’s medicine, as well as diapers.”

It didn’t take long for the bulk of the account to be depleted. Cogswell doesn’t remember the date, but he does remember taking a withdrawal that brought the balance to around $200.

That’s when bank fees started to swallow what was left of the account.

Busy caring for Kelly and working as an emergency medical technician for the Brick Police Emergency Medical Service and as a volunteer for the South River Rescue Squad, Cogswell didn’t notice the fees. He said he knew there wasn’t much left in the account, so the statements were put aside.

While he wasn’t looking, the account was being assessed a $25 monthly fee because the balance was less than $500.

He finally noticed some time in the spring of 2011.

“I had not been told about this service fee and have since been told that the person that originally set up my account set it up as a business account,” Cogswell said. “Since I wasn’t paying attention to the statements, before I knew it, my balance was depleted, TD Bank having stolen money earmarked for my daughter.”

And it got worse.

TD Bank told Cogswell he owed the bank money because the account had gone into the negatives — because of the fees.

Cogswell said he contacted the bank’s 800-number, and a rep told him the negative balance would be written off. He was not happy about losing the monthly $25, but he was at least glad that TD Bank was willing to forget the rest of it.

Or was it?

More than a year later, in August, Cogswell learned the case wasn’t yet closed.
“I began getting phone calls from a company called MRS Associates from Cherry Hill, and I received a notice that my TD Bank account was in collections for $95,” he said.

Cogswell went to the TD Bank branch nearest him, hoping someone could help.
The bank manager said she couldn’t “zero out” the account because it had been opened at a different branch.

So off to the Burnt Tavern Road branch he went.

He wasn’t granted an audience with a manager, but instead a rep took his information and promised to research it and call him with an answer.

“When they contacted me back, they said that they could not verify that I opened the account at their branch because of limitations on their computer system and therefore could not assist me,” Cogswell said. “Now I am stuck having to deal with MRS Associates on my own for a debt I shouldn’t have.”

We reached out to TD Bank on Oct. 18, and Cogswell and a bank regional manager played phone tag for a day or two.

When they finally reached each other, the bank rep apologized and said the branch should have been able to help him.

The $95 would be immediately taken out of collections, and TD Bank would overnight a check, returning fees of about $175, the rep said.

We asked TD Bank if it had anything to add.

“At TD Bank, we try to always get it right the first time, but on this occasion we appreciated the opportunity to have another chance to meet Mr. Cogswell’s banking needs,” spokeswoman Judith Rusk said. “The team at TD has the Cogswell family in our thoughts.”

Rusk said it talked to Cogswell and he is satisfied with the resolution.

Well, sort of.

Cogswell says he feels the account was handled incorrectly from the beginning by the bank personnel.

“Every year the Brick PBA has a basketball game for someone who is sick or needy,” he said. “They always recommend this branch to open an account to put the money in because it’s convenient, so you’d think the branch would have known how to set up the account, as they’ve probably done it before.”

“Personally, even though this was resolved, I will never bank with TD Bank again,” he said.

Lots of consumers take big hits with bank fees, but for the Cogswell family, the bite was especially sharp.

Cogswell works full time and his wife, a registered nurse, works 20 hours a week so she can be available for Kelly. While health insurance now pays for Kelly’s 24-hour nursing care, their expenses are greater than their income.

The family, behind on bills, often has to decide which to pay and which to delay. They’re $1,500 behind on their electric bill, and the power has been turned off three times in the past few months, Cogswell said. They have no more credit, their cars are more than 10 years old and they need a handicapped van because insurance doesn’t cover medical transport to doctor’s appointments.

“We currently have to carry her to our van, put her in a car seat that doesn’t support her properly, then put an old wheelchair in the van to bring her to her appointments,” he said. “Her current wheelchair doesn’t fit.”

So the $175 will come in handy, for certain.

You can read more about Kelly on a Facebook page created for her benefit — Kisses-for-Kelly (