How Texas couple won 2-year battle against Bank of America over credit card fraud – Houston Chronicle


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Mary Keener was sure that her husband, a disabled Air Force veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, never arranged for $17,000 worth of international flights, a hotel and cruise.

So, when she reviewed a bank statement from November 2019 on his Alaska Air credit card, she knew the charges were bogus and filed a dispute.

“Since we monitor our credit closely, we knew it wasn’t us,” said Keener, 72, a semi-retired accountant.

Yet, for the last 2½ years, the Dallas couple battled the fraudulent charges that upended their lives and clouded their financial future. The delinquent debt, which they believe was the result of identity theft, also impacted Lewis “Deakon” Keener’s credit score and made it difficult for the couple to refinance their home.

Last October, Deakon Keener hired a Dallas attorney to file a federal lawsuit alleging that the card’s issuer — Bank of America — failed to adequately investigate and correct inaccurate reporting information to the credit bureaus even after Keener repeatedly disputed the charges and provided documents supporting that the charges were not his.

The lawsuit, which also named as defendants the nation’s top credit bureaus, is among hundreds filed each year in Texas federal courts under the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act, records show. Nationwide, thousands of suits are filed annually related to abusive, deceptive and unfair debt collection practices, which the fair reporting act prohibits.


A Houston Chronicle investigation has found that an explosion of debt collection lawsuits filed in Texas is raising concerns that overwhelmed civil courts can't adequately review each lawsuit and deliver justice fairly.


Debt collection lawsuits filed in Texas have soared by 73 percent over the last decade.


A growing number of Texans could unknowingly be subject to a bank freeze or accounts seizure.


A North Texas couple fights back and sues their credit card company, a debt collector and two credit bureaus.

The federal law establishes the ground rules for what debt collectors can say or do to convey information — directly or indirectly — regarding a debt to a consumer.

But in Texas, debt collectors can be especially vulnerable to potential violations — as the number of debt collection lawsuits have exploded, a Houston Chronicle examination found. Statewide, these lawsuits jumped 74 percent from 2012 to 2021, according to a Chronicle analysis of data from the Texas Office of the Court Administration.

For the first time in history, the 374,000 debt lawsuits filed in the Lone Star State last year made up nearly half of all civil cases in Texas, which include traffic tickets, landlord evictions and small claims, such as disputes between neighbors.

Meanwhile, thanks to the fair reporting act, documentation kept by the Keeners and their lawyers, the couple finally ended their financial limbo in late March — but only after the Chronicle contacted Bank of America for this story.

Travel perks

When Mary Wilson started dating Deakon Keener, he was already disabled from the Air Force, the result of exposure to Agent Orange as a bomb loader in the Vietnam War. He also ruptured a disc in his back. By his early 50s, he had survived congestive heart failure, multiple skin cancers and radiation to treat prostate cancer. He has a pacemaker.

When they decided to marry 21 years ago, she immediately took over the finances. As a self-employed accountant, she had financed her business almost entirely on credit cards. Her strategy was to scrutinize bank statements and pay on time to avoid interest charges.

Deakon was glad to have found a life partner who could manage the couple’s finances. After his first marriage, he wasn’t in great financial shape.

“This one is very careful,” he said, pointing to Mary. 

The couple decided to fill out an application for the Alaska Air credit card while visiting his children and grandchildren in Alaska. It offered a companion pass for a round trip ticket for $100 for travel once a year. They signed the contract for the card in 2012.

Mary said they paid off the balance each month.

“We constantly made sure we were very accurate on our payments,” she said.

Bogus charges

Prior to November 2019, the credit limit on Deakon’s Alaska Air credit card was $5,000.

That month, the credit limit soared, without his knowledge or consent, to $17,500, the lawsuit states. On or about Nov. 17, 2019, four fraudulent charges were made to his credit card totaling $17,054.68. There were two charges — each for $5,910.15 — to a vendor known as “”; another for $4,389.31 was made to “Immo Sarl.” Yet another charge of $845.07 went to “Slydepay.”

Mary was not alarmed at first. She had seen fraudulent charges on her credit cards in the past.

“One time, a guy bought three computers on my card,” she said. “And I told them this is not mine and you know they immediately removed it.”

But this was different.

She tried to contact the companies that apparently had charged her husband for a cruise, a hotel booking and international airfare.

“They always tell you to go to the vendor and check it out and see if you can get the vendor to revert the charges,” she said. “So, I go look them up, and they don’t exist. I found one website, and it was like from Venezuela or some South American country.”

Deakon called the bank and told the representative that the charges were not his and were fraudulent. Shortly after, he also filed a police report.

By late November, a bank investigation indicated it would place a temporary credit for $17,054.68 on the account while the review was ongoing. 

However, less than a month later, it said it could not approve the claim because the charges had been made by one of Deakon’s “verified devices like a cell phone or a tablet.”

That shocked the Keeners.

“We actually wrote back and said, ‘Prove it. What device?’” Deakon said.

By early January 2020, Deakon sent another letter, explaining he had not requested a credit increase on his line of credit — and he did not travel internationally due to being on a fixed income and having multiple health issues that prevent him from traveling long distances.

By July 31, the bank had referred the account to a collection firm.

Mary Keener holds a copy of the lawsuit her husband filed against a creditor, two credit bureaus and a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits creditors from abusive debt collection practices. The lawsuit was recently settled for an undisclosed amount.

Mary Keener holds a copy of the lawsuit her husband filed against a creditor, two credit bureaus and a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits creditors from abusive debt collection practices. The lawsuit was recently settled for an undisclosed amount.

Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

‘Irritating as all get-out’

The Keeners didn’t stop trying to resolve their dispute over the credit card debt.

In August 2020, Deakon wrote more letters, requesting a correction to his credit account.

He also met with a Bank of America representative to attempt to resolve his dispute related to the account, but the representative couldn’t help and provided him with a telephone number.

In September, the bank sent him another letter, which stated, “After a review of details you provided and a thorough investigation, we’ve concluded that no fraud has occurred.”

That fall, he reached out to the credit bureaus to address the fraudulent charges. But by January 2021, when he tried to take advantage of record-low interest rates, it was already too late. He was denied the low-interest loan because of the impact of the charge-off to his credit report.

“What I was doing was taking that equity and building it,” Mary said. “But now we’re not going to be able to refinance because the rates have gone up instead of down.”

Then, that spring, as his wife consulted with clients throughout the day, a process server rang the doorbell to their home just after lunch.

Bank of America had sued for a balance of $1,491.31, which represented the interest charged on the fraudulent charges and late fees assessed to the account because the disputed balance was not credited.

“We knew that we were not guilty of what was going on,” Deakon said. “It is irritating as all get-out to have my integrity challenged, due to the fact that I built an entire career on my integrity and was often assigned duties because of my integrity and my attention to detail, and to have somebody accuse me of something totally groundless and for them to show up and give me a summons or serve me? I’m going, you guys are really overstepping your boundary here.”


Lewis "Deakon" and Mary Keener say their credit card was fraudulently used to charge $17,000 worth of cruises and airfare. They sued in federal court under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits creditors from abusive debt collection practices. The lawsuit was recently settled for an undisclosed amount and the charges were removed from Deakon Keener’s account.

Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Pinching pennies

Mary spent most of her working life as a self-employed CPA. When she met her second husband, she made a modest living. He was surviving on disability benefits and Social Security.

To get out from under her debt, she sold her CPA practice in 2014. But she still works with some clients and for her brother’s company about 10 hours a week, she said.

Meanwhile, her disabled husband’s financial picture has not changed much.

There is no large savings account that has accumulated to prepare them for retirement. Neither can depend on a corporate or government-sponsored retirement plan. About $150,000 in equity is in their Dallas home. They own two vehicles, one with roughly 100,000 miles on it.

“We are a couple of very moderate means,” she said. “We do not have a great deal of money to retire on.”

The couple had hoped to refinance their home to invest some of the equity in it, but now those plans have been pushed back. They also had to re-evaluate whether to buy another car or do some home remodeling to try to sell the home and downsize into a more affordable one.

“We would never plan a $17,000 trip,” Mary said.

“It never happened,” her husband said. “Bottom line.”

In December, they drove to Nashville, Tenn.

“That’s a $2,000 vacation,” she said.

Mary and Deakon met with the Chronicle earlier this year on two separate occasions to share their experience as victims of identity theft.

In early March, the couple said they had waited many months for the lawsuit to be over. Once it cleared, they said, they hoped to try again to refinance their Dallas home.

“To have this black cloud following you, we had to adjust,” Deakon said.

Several days after the Chronicle requested an interview with Bank of America, the bank addressed the inaccuracies in Deakon’s credit card account and credit status.

“The bank has credited Mr. Keener’s accounts and corrected the credit bureaus filings,” spokesman Bill Halldin wrote in an email on April 4.

On April 27, Halldin contacted the Chronicle, saying the suit had been settled. The bank had no further comment.

Experian Information Solutions Inc. and Equifax Information Services LLC. — the two credit reporting agencies also named as defendants in the suit — did not return requests for comment. Nor did the debt collections law firm, Javitch Block, another defendant named in the suit.

Deakon’s lawyer, Thad Bartholow, said “the matter has been resolved” but would not comment on details.

Consumers are more likely to fall victim to identity theft as more companies, from hotel chains to software security providers, are hit by hackers, making public sensitive data, including driver’s license and Social Security numbers, said Bartholow, a partner at Kellett and Bartholow, a Dallas law firm that handles consumer and bankruptcy litigation matters.

Several years ago, the nation’s largest credit reporting agency, Equifax, announced a data breach that exposed the personal information of 147 million people. The company agreed to a global settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and 50 U.S. states and territories. That settlement included up to $425 million to help people affected by the data breach.

That also could explain the significant increase in consumer disputes. In 2019, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection received 300,000 complaints. That figure jumped dramatically in 2020 to a record 540,000 complaints — many related to identity theft that often correlates with inaccurate information on consumer credit reports.

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