Wednesday, September 26, 2012

You can take that to the bank.

Some days I just want to go home to America where half of what I eat isn’t trying to kill me. Today is one of those days. My insides are less than happy with me right now, so I’m staying home for the day to work in my nice air-conditioned room and rest and hope I don’t have to take the second of my four courses of antibiotics. At this rate I’ll run out by Halloween. F., another grad student staying here this week to renew her visa, pointed out that this kind of total exhaustion is exactly what happened to her just before she got dengue on her last trip out here, and that another linguists caught it here earlier this summer. My lack of a headache points to good old-fashioned food poisoning instead, but just in case I looked up the phone number for the embassy and double-checked my Medex medevac insurance card, so if they need to fly me out to Singapore I’m good to go. A little melodrama makes the day go by faster.

But this post isn’t about the joys of tropical illness, be they food- or mosquito-borne. It’s about why banks are awful, credit cards suck, and my apparently terrible luck with both. Oh, and Bank of America can kiss my ass, even if this whole thing is only partly their fault.

It all started about a week ago, when my gas company emailed me to say that my automatic payment was turned down by the bank for some sort of invalid code. I’ve got all my bills on autopay precisely so I won’t have to deal with them while I’m abroad, since we all know how sketchy the internet can be out here. So I went to the website, tried again, got the same error, and switched the payment to my debit card. So much for my 30 cents worth of rewards from that bill each month, but such is life. A few days later I turned on my US cell phone to check for messages, which I do every week or so, and got a voicemail from BOA saying there’d been some suspicious activity on my credit card and could I give them a call.

I should take a moment to explain why I was skeptical. The last time they noticed “suspicious activity”, it was when I tried to buy a bus ticket from Canberra to Sydney. But I called back in May to say I’d be abroad for the summer? Oh, that note’s not on the account? Then why did it take you a solid month to start flagging the international transactions as suspicious? The time before that the transactions in question were a theater ticket from the Roundabout in New York and a $30 grocery bill from Nica’s, where I shop at least weekly. Anyone with full access to my spending patterns (like, say, my credit card company? That also runs my bank accounts?) should be more worried if I don’t make those purchases. But there we are. The time before that they were worried about a plane ticket I was trying to buy from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Luang Prabang, Laos, which might have been worth noticing if it hadn’t been the day after I’d called to notify them that I’d soon be traveling abroad to a number of countries in SE Asia, including Cambodia and Laos. But I guess they thought I was just gonna walk from one to the other. And these are the people we trust not to crash our whole financial sector. (Well, we all know how that one turned out…)

But I stayed up ungodly late to call and check (10pm! Shut up, the chickens and birds and dogs and babies are all making a racket by 6 in the morning), and in this case they were actually right; somebody tried to use my card at a Publix in Florida. (My money’s on Abby, trying to recoup all those Morikami entrance fees and dinners at Il Girasole.) So they cancelled the card, and promised to overnight a new one to my parents, who could then give me the number. No good for in-person use, but I could still use it online and for all my bills, and nobody out here takes credit cards anyway. All solved, right?

Haha. That was Wednesday. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, no new card. I know the new account exists, since the statement shows up on the BOA website, but that’ll only give me the last four digits, not enough to pay my bills with. Then I get an email saying that they’ve cancelled online billing for this card, but not to worry, I’ll still be getting paper statements and can still use Bank of America’s online bill pay service to pay them! Umm… yes, paper statements, I’ll just go ahead and pay them when I get home in January and see how that goes over. Or just forward them to Papua (along with my absentee ballot…); the timetable will be about the same, mmhmm, sure. I went to the BOA website to turn the damn online billing back on, and poof! the whole account had disappeared, along with any evidence that it had ever existed. So that night again I stayed up late to call and see what the hell had happened, and it turns out there was a simple explanation: as of yesterday, Upromise, the company behind the card, had transferred their whole operation from Bank of America to Barclay’s, another eminently well-scrupled institution. (Interest rate fixing scandal? What interest rate fixing scandal?) And yes, of course they’d notified me of the change! Well, no, not by email, particularly not in the email about canceling the online statements (who cares about the whys of these sorts of things anyway?), but even better, by letter! In July! While I was in New Zealand! Whoops. The next morning I got an email from Upromise inviting me to start using my new credit card from Barclay’s.

Well wouldn’t I love to. There’s still the minor question of knowing the account number, though, and seeing as Bank of America has seemingly decided against mailing my parents a new card (which wouldn’t work anyway, given the bank switch – all the cards got a new expiration date), and whatever they’d originally mailed me was a) currently somewhere within the vagaries of the USPS mail forwarding system and b) probably on the old, defrauded, cancelled account number anyway, I still had no idea what that was. Eventually I found the relevant phone number, called Barclay’s, explained the situation to the ‘relationship manager’ (really?) on the other end, explained to him what would need to happen if they’d like me to pay my credit card bills before next year, and promptly got transferred to a specialist who could deal with a situation so exquisitely screwed up. And she was lovely, and it’s certainly not her fault the whole thing was so entirely convoluted that it took half an hour to sort out, so I give them credit for that. Oh, and that $700 balance on the card? Even though you haven’t made any purchases since paying off your last balance in full? Let’s see here… That’s from purchases made at a Publix in Florida on the 18th of the month.

It all appears to be sorted out now: the fraudulent charges have been flagged by both banks (since clearly one wasn’t enough); yet another new card, hopefully the right one this time, has been overnighted to my parents, and hopefully will get there this time; and when that gets there they’ll send me the info and I can activate it and call Barclay’s back to tell them I’ll be using it abroad so hopefully they won’t flag my next purchases as fraudulent too, and maybe I’ll even start getting those 30 cents of rewards on my gas bill again. But to whit: My credit card just got stolen a matter of days before it (unbeknownst to me) got switched to a different bank, all while I’m abroad with crappy cell reception and mediocre internet, a perfect storm of shit going wrong. And there were a lot of ‘hopefully’s in that last sentence. I’m not counting on anything.

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