Did Bank of America Freeze a Customer's Account to Demand Proof of Citizenship?

A Kansas City news photographer said his account was suspended until he told a bank representative he was a U.S. citizen.

Published Aug 4, 2018

 (Tero Vesalainen /
Image Via Tero Vesalainen /

Josh Collins was born in Kansas "like Superman," but he said his Bank of America account was frozen until he confirmed to a company representative he was a U.S. citizen.

The photojournalist for KCTV5 News told us he received a letter from the bank in the mail asking for personal information that included his Social Security number and citizenship status. He ignored it because he thought it might be a scam. "I figured if it was legitimate there would some follow-up," he told us by phone. "The second communication from them was [about their informing me they were] freezing my bank account. It’s a great way to get my attention."

As immigration and citizenship have been topics of intense focus in recent months, Collins said he was not surprised that his story went viral. But he pointed out that although some reports said the bank "demanded" proof of citizenship, that is not true. Bank representatives asked him to confirm his citizenship status orally, and the only identification he was required to show in order to re-access his bank account was his driver's license.

We called and emailed Bank of America for comment about Collins' experience but received no response.

Collins told us his family first discovered their bank account was frozen during a week off they spent at home in Kansas City. On 24 July 2018, his wife Jessica tried to buy tacos for their children while they were en route to go swimming, but their debit card was declined for the purchase. They phoned the bank to inquire about the problem and learned their account had been frozen. Josh Collins said one of the first things the bank representative asked him was whether he was a U.S. citizen.

Collins told his employer KCTV5 he was taken aback by the query. "I was born and raised in Kansas like Superman. I said, ‘How much more American can you get?'"

It took the couple roughly 36 hours to resolve the situation.

In a statement provided to KCTV5, a Bank of America spokesperson said Collins' account was suspended because he didn't respond to their request for information:

Like all financial institutions, we’re required by law to maintain complete and accurate records for all of our customers and may periodically request information as required by law and regulation. This is not unique to Bank of America. This type of outreach is nothing new and the information must be up to date. Therefore we periodically reach out to customers, which is what we did in this case.

Over time, we reach out to all customers to verify their information, not only specific customers. If we don’t hear from a customer in response to our outreach, as a last resort, we may restrict the account until we can confirm it is in compliance with regulatory requirements.

As a result of the incident, Collins said he and his wife and phasing out use of their Bank of America account and have opened one with a local credit union.


Brown, Zoe and Emily Sinovic.   "Bank of America Questions Customer’s Citizenship, Freezes Accounts."     KCTV.   27 July 2018.

Siegel, Rachel.  "‘Are You a U.S. Citizen?’ This Question Locked a Kansas Couple Out of a Bank Account."     The Washington Post.   31 July 2018.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.

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