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Charlotte Observer: Frustration Mounts Over Bank Of America's Website Issues

Trouble accessing Bank of America's website continued Monday after a weekend of widespread outages and slowdowns, frustrating consumers and business owners who rely on the site to pay bills and employees. Meanwhile, the Charlotte-based bank's stock took a beating on a bad day for financials and the overall markets, with shares closing at $5.53. That was down nearly 10 percent from the previous day's close, and the first dip below $6 since March 2009. Some customers saw a message on the bank's homepage Monday that said some pages were temporarily unavailable, though links to online banking and other pages, such as a branch locator, appeared to work. Others had trouble accessing their accounts. Bank spokeswoman Tara Burke said the problem was not caused by hacking, malware or a denial-of-service attack, which involves flooding a target with external requests so it cannot respond to regular traffic. She said customers' information has not been compromised, and not all customers experienced problems, with online banking working for most. Bank of America, with 29 million active online accounts, is the nation's largest bank by deposits. It was not breaking out a root cause for the problem and had no estimate of when the site might work normally again for all customers, Burke said. She said the access problems Monday stemmed from an effort to manage website traffic. "We have simply taken some proactive measures to manage customer traffic during peak hours during the day, which may result in some customers experiencing slowness or access issues," Burke said. The website issues began Friday, a day after Bank of America's announcement that it would begin charging customers $5 per month for making debit-card purchases, joining other large banks that have rolled out similar fees. The move drew heavy criticism from consumers, but Burke declined to say whether site volume surged after the announcement. She said the website troubles had "nothing to do with the debit card" news. The site experienced problems again Saturday, and the issues appeared to be fixed Sunday before returning Monday. Customers, meanwhile, expressed frustration and near-panic at not being able to access their accounts. "I am absolutely beside myself, thinking, how do we continue to do business?" said Lynn Roberts of Globotext, a small Florida-based business that translates news releases, earnings reports and other business documents. The company relies on Bank of America's online services to transfer money to contract employees around the world - and by Monday, several dozen had gone unpaid, Roberts said. After 15 years with Bank of America, Roberts said she may change banks, depending on how quickly the problem is resolved and whether bank officials are transparent about what happened and whether her business accounts remain secure, she said. "It's extremely worrisome, because for us not to be able to pay somebody who does work for us is simply not an acceptable option," she said. "We'll give it another 48 hours, but we will have to make a decision, because we are not sufficiently large and diversified to be able to manage something like this." Bank of America's stock has fallen nearly 60 percent this year as the bank continues to struggle with legal troubles and financial losses stemming from its 2008 purchase of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. Copyright 2011 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.