Sunday, March 15, 2015

give me some credit

Using credit cards on the internet in Mexico is dangerous.

But not for the reasons you may suspect.

I have mentioned in passing that I am heading to Red China at the end of next month.  I am not as certain that I mentioned I will be boarding a ship in Shanghai to cross the Pacific to Canada.  Along the way, we will stop in Korea (not the red one), Japan, and Russia.

My traveling companion and I agreed to buy two shore excursions in Japan, arranged by a fellow passenger from Australia.  The woman from Australia told me we were on the tours; I just needed to call an international number to finalize payment.

And that is where matters stood for three days.  I know from past experience that making payment by credit card is no longer a simple procedure.  Especially, with all the nations involved in this transaction.

I am in Mexico.  My credit card is issued by an American bank.  The concertmaster in this transaction is Australian.  The tour company is headquartered in Britain.

The easy part was the telephone call to London to make my payment.  The only difficult part was the nearly 45 minutes on international hold.

And then the fun started.  First, I received an email from the tour company.  My bank had declined the payment.  Of course, it had.  Because that is what my bank seems to do with every transaction out of the borders of The States -- and, often, within.

I have tried calling in advance to tell whoever answers the telephone at the bank that I am about to make a multi-national transaction that will trigger a fraud alert.  Each time I do that, some very polite young person tells me there should be no problem.

There almost always is.  Within a minute of getting the "no payment" notice from the tour company, I received the dreaded "Security Alert" from my bank that "unusual credit card activity had been detected," and that "certain limitations" had been placed on my card.

So, I steeled myself and called my bank.  After almost a half hour on hold, I told another very polite young person that "Yes, I just made a multi-digit transaction with a tour company in England."  "Yes, I know my telephone number."  "Yes, that is my address."  "No, I have never lived in North Carolina with someone named Neal Chamintingalinthan."

The very polite young person then reminded me that this was all for my benefit, and that I bore no potential financial responsibility.  I let the non sequitur pass.

I was back on the telephone to London to make my payment -- after another lengthy spell on hold.  We had a good laugh about how the internet has made everything so easy.  English sarcasm is even better than its weaker-strength American version.

I sent copies of my receipt of payment to the woman in Australia and my traveling companion.  I thought I had got off easy this time.

Not so.  I must have ignored the second "Security Alert" in my inbox.  When I tried to use the credit card online for a purchase from Amazon the next day, I was informed my credit card was not valid.

Odd.  The very nice young person from the bank had promised all was well.

So, back on the telephone I went.  After an hour and a half on hold, the annoying hold music and not-so-truthful frequent reminders that someone would be right with me stopped.  Just stopped.  I guess I reached the bank's time limit.

After four more attempts two days later, I finally was able to talk with very nice young person number three.  I told him my tale of woe and wondered if someone had managed to lift my card since my last conversation with the bank.

Nope, he said.  The only alert was on the tour tickets that clearly showed the freeze had been lifted on my card.  But, for some reason, it had not.

He then tried to console me with the litany I had ignored the first time.  All of this was all for my benefit, and that I bore no potential financial responsibility.

I stopped him right there and asked: "Which of those two sentences is a lie?  Both cannot be true.  They are contradictory.  Either this system is not for my benefit or I actually do have some financial liability.

"I suspect the first one is the lie.  This system is solely to protect the bank, not me as an individual.  That would be the true reading, wouldn't it?"

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  I know.  I was being very unfair to very polite young person number three.  He was simply reading a script.  He didn't write his lines.

But I gave him great credit for originality.  Instead of staying on script, he merely said: "You were wise enough to choose us as your bank.  And you have just shown the same wisdom.  Some calls, of course, are recorded for training purposes."

We had a good laugh.  I thanked him.  And my credit card is currently working.

That is, until I try to use it once again.  I calculate, I spent about four hours simply to buy two sets of excursion tickets.  The tours better be outstanding.

And, if you see me roll my eyes when you tell me I can use the simple method of paying online with a credit card, you now know why.


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