Itau, run by liars, thieves and cheatsItau made a profit of 14 billion reais (around US $7 billion) last year.

Here’s one of the reasons why.

A couple of weeks ago I spotted an unfamiliar charge on my bank statement. It’s hard to know what Brazil’s banks are charging you for because they deliberately make the statement unintelligible.

For example, instead of writing: Payment for Private Health Plan – 601,94 reais, they write AG. PAG TIT 236431171236362 – 601,94.

After taking a closer look I saw they’d been taking 20 reais out my account every month since the start of the year. I knew it couldn’t be a monthly charge for running my account because I’d last year specifically asked Itau not to charge me the monthly fee and they’d removed it.

(Banks won’t tell you this but you are not obliged to pay a monthly fee. As long as you’re not using a certain number of checks or withdrawals, banking is free.)

So I went to the bank and asked about the mysterious charge. They opened an investigation and promised to call back within a week. They didn’t so I went back and complained again. A few days later I got a phone call.

After half-heartedly trying to shift the blame on me the bank eventually admitted they had illegally reinstated the monthly charge. For seven months I’d been paying them 20 reais a month even thought I had specifically asked them to remove it.

The bank apologised (in their own unapologetic way) and promised me they would reimburse me the 140 reais.

Excellent, I thought and celebrated one of life’s tiny victories.

I told a friend about this triumph and he laughed. They’re still screwing you, he said.

How’s that, I asked.

The answer is this:

When a bank or utility illegally charges you or overcharges you they are obliged not just to pay you back what they owe but pay you back DOUBLE.

I checked. He’s right. Here‘s the Defesa do Consumidor page saying exactly that.

So I went back to Itau and asked them if I was entitled to receive double. They said Yes, and promised to begin the process to pay me the extra 140 reais.

Why didn’t you tell me that under the law I was entitled to receive double, I asked.

We only pay double to those that ask, my bank manager responded.

So even though you know the law says you should pay back double, Itau doesn’t do that unless customers ask specifically for the letter of the law to be applied.

She hummed and hawed and told me that was the culture here and that all banks did it this way.

I told her Itau were nothing short of thieves.

She shrugged her shoulders and looked sheepish.

I will now wait and see if Itau pay me double as they’re supposed to. But I at least established another reason Itau’s profit last year was the second biggest in Brazilian banking history.

By deceiving their customers.