Friday, July 23, 2010

Customer Service

In Which an Angry Moose Sprains Her Tongue Trying Not to Go Vulgar and Sarcastic on the Overly Vigilant Anti-Fraud Department of Her Bank

Last week in this space we very nearly talked about sex, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that most days this is a queer blog that seems as if it might be edited by Jane Austen.  Today we broach an even trickier, more intimate subject:  money.  Go away if that makes you uncomfortable, darlings.  Click over to the discussion of a prominent academic's sexy memoir that's been going on between and among Tenured Radical (part I, part III), Historiann (part II), and Comrade PhysioProf (part I and only) if that's where your head is at on this steamy summer morning.  My typist has something she wants to get off her chest, and, by golly, she's going to unload it on my poor, unsuspecting readers.  Welcome to the rant zone, my pretties.  You have been warned.

For very nearly a quarter of a century, the moms have been loyal customers of a certain locally owned bank that shares a name with a town in Maryland and a former star of Saturday Night Live.  About eighteen months ago, in the midst of the mortgage meltdown, it was announced that this "local banking icon" was being acquired by a Virginia-based bank holding company whose slogan has probably been annoying you for years:  "What's in your wallet?"

Moose finally has an answer to that question:  A check card I am afraid to use lest I arouse the suspicions of your overly zealous anti-fraud system.  Uh-oh.  Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, Moose started making reservations and other plans for the moms' upcoming trip to the UK.  When she attempted to purchase theater (pardon me, theatre) tickets (because that is what tasteful queers do when they go to London, darlings), the transaction was declined.  She figured the transaction looked fishy because she usually uses her check card for far less glamorous things than tickets for the hottest play in London.  She immediately called the bank, confirmed that was the problem, and had a long, friendly conversation explaining that she was making plans for a trip she would be taking in a month, so please don't be alarmed by international transactions.  Yes, yes, she was told, but be sure to call us back right before you go to make sure we enter the information into the system again so that you won't have any problems using the card while you are there.  Sure thing, Moose replied, thanks so much for your help.  My pleasure, ma'am.  Have a nice day.

The very next day, Moose tried to use the card again to order some new clothes for the trip.  She was feeling all virtuous for planning ahead rather than realizing the day before departure that she had absolutely nothing suitable for hiking, conferencing, and London theater-hopping.  To her considerable consternation, she got an e-mail the next day from the merchant (a merchant she and Goose matronize so regularly that they argue about who should be able to order this shirt or these pants in that color) saying that the transaction had been declined.  She called the bank again and was again told the transaction had been flagged as suspicious by the bank's anti-fraud system.  "But I don't understand," a frustrated Moose said.  "I went through this yesterday and thought we had everything worked out."  "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you'll need to speak to the people who investigate suspicious activity.  That is done by a third party, not the bank.  You need to call them and verify these transactions."  "But, but, I, but, yesterday -- " spluttered a frustrated and puzzled Moose.

It was no use arguing with the brainless automaton who could do nothing but read from the company script the highly trained customer service representative who did her perky best to assist the increasingly indignant Moose.  She dutifully dialed the number she was given and spoke to a tele-dork who probably hates women and thinks theatre is for wusses a hard-working crime-prevention specialist whose only interest was protecting Moose's hard-earned money.  They went through the whole rigmarole of verifying the transactions, and she made sure his office had all of her phone numbers because a piece of the story we left out in the interest of concision had to do with the fraud people allegedly having tried to reach her and for some strange reason having only the number of an office she rarely uses.  She also tried to get an explanation for why, after what she had gone through the day before, her card had been flagged again.  "You'll have to ask the bank, ma'am.  We've got nothing to do with that."

Here are two things you need to understand:  1.  Moose loves her check card.  She loves the convenience of plastic and the simplicity of having charges immediately debited to her account.  She doesn't care about racking up points or miles and doesn't like the idea of being slammed with a big bill at the end of the month.  She is that rare creature, a pay-as-you-go liberal.  Blame it on the German accountant who lives in her brain.  2.  Moose is also an anxious traveler, which you probably already know if you hang out here regularly or know her in Real Life.

So, after two frustrating rounds with the bank and the fraud hacks experts, our poor Moose is dependent on her check card, anxious about her trip, and worried sick that she will not be able to used the card abroad.  She calls the bank back to try to get an explanation for why the card was flagged again and to try to get some assurance that she will be able to access her money when she is thousands of miles from home.  (Something else you may or may not need to know:  At this point, Moose has no other cards on which she can get cash advances.  I mean, for dog's sake, people, how many pin numbers is a middle-aged woman supposed to have to remember?)  She goes round and round and round and round with the powerless but well-intentioned young woman who picks up her call and who, to her astonishment, cannot explain why this keeps happening.  As calmly as she can, Moose asks to speak to a supervisor.  (Goose, who usually handles customer service problems in our household, has trained her to do this.)

The stick-up-her-a$$ who in the blazes are you to be interrupting my day with questions about your damn money witch patience of Job and financial wisdom of Buffett supervisor makes the clever move of speaking to Moose as if she were an impertinent yet dim-witted 5-year-old and basically says that the bank's position is that any transaction, no matter how small or seemingly ordinary, could be fraudulent, whether it's for theater tickets in London or deodorant from the pharmacy around the corner.  "So you're telling me I really can't count on using my card.  In other words, I can't count on being able to access the money I have in your bank."  (Full disclosure:  As her frustration levels rose, she actually said things like, "the thousands of dollars I have in your bank," as if she were Leona Helmsley or something.  Forgive her.  She was trying really hard not to cuss, and if you know Moose at all you know what a herculean effort that required.)

She hung up the phone, a seriously unsatisfied and deeply anxious customer.  She went out on Facebook and trashed the bank, started asking friends for recommendations on alternatives.  She considered pulling her vast wealth out of the bank soon not to share a name with a town in Maryland and a former star of Saturday Night Live and putting it into the state employees' credit union after reading an article affirming that banks suck nowadays because they are ginormous corporate entities that view customers as nuisances while credit unions are small, not-for-profit, and member-owned.

And then of course, because it is summer and there are papers to be written and blogs to be redesigned, she did nothing.  She went to the movies, a couple of times.  She obsessed about birds that seemed to have taken up residence in the chimney.  She got a haircut.  And then yesterday, realizing she had neglected one small bit of trip planning, she tried to make reservations at a charming hotel in Wales.  And the transaction, of course, was declined.

She called the bank.  Initially she was told the charge was declined because the 3-digit security code that had been entered was incorrect.  Moose didn't think that was true but kept the person on the phone while she reentered the information.  Declined, again.  Now she was told it was being flagged as suspicious.  Further, some previous transactions had been flagged and she needed to verify those:  movie tickets, the chimney service (which was called in to install a second damper to prevent future bird incursions), and, yes, even the haircut.

At this point, Moose is feeling like Offred in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, convinced that she is being denied access to her money as part of a sinister totalitarian plot to turn her into a breeder for a brutal patriarchal regime.  (Woo, yeah, good luck with THAT, fellas!)  You might feel that way, too, kids, if you found yourself in the midst of a conversation that suddenly took this turn:

Moose:  The hair salon?  You're flagging a transaction at my hair salon?  I've gotten my hair cut at the same place for twenty years!

Bank:  Well, yes, ma'am, but the amount was substantially higher than usual.

Moose:  Oh, for dog's sake, are you kidding?  I bought product, not that it's any of your business, but I bought product!  (Meanwhile, in Moose's head, which was on the brink of explosion, she is saying something like:  Oh, dear bank, I do humbly apologize for being so vain as to require both conditioner and styling lotion to create the illusion of actually having any hair at all.  I realize it is not fiscally prudent to expend my meager, furloughed resources on such trifles, and I will endeavor in the future to be less extravagant, but in the meantime, you deranged mother frackers, will you get your big corporate a$$ out of the way and let me spend my goldurned money!)

Goose overheard this conversation and can verify that it was as baffling and frustrating as Moose felt it was.  She is sympathetic to The Handmaid's Tale view of the situation, as she is nothing if not a conspiracy theorist.  She offers another view, though, which is that this bizarre episode of corporate Big Brother/Shaming Mother-ism is a small yet frightening example of what can happen when automated software systems take too much control of our lives and our ways of doing business.  She may be right, but poor Moose, in the meantime, is in a dither, wondering if she should travel with cold hard cash or a stash of jewelry to sell along the way in case her card doesn't work.

She's ready, though, for her next conversation with the faceless, heartless, clueless corporate drones from the bank soon not to share a name with a town in Maryland and a former star of Saturday Night Live.  Next time they ask her for the last four digits of her Social Security number and her mother's maiden name, she will dutifully spit out the number, but then she'll take a deep, cleansing, Betty White-channeling breath and calmly reply, "Blarfengar!"

Peace out, darlings, and have a pleasant weekend.


  1. Two suggestions. Do take your money out of the bank and begin banking with the credit union. Its truly the only way to go . . . smaller, friendlier, with better rates on home equity loans (at least here in NC), and you get the satisfaction of taking your money out of the fucking bank that's been making your life miserable (How did you miss the "Move your money" campaign? Do you not read Huffington Post?).

    Two--you can get Visa/MC "gift card"--which said fucking bank should issue you, prepaid with your cash that is allegedly being held in said fucking band, and which you then use just like a credit card on your trip. These are actually very helpful for trips--and generally much safer than the bank credit/debit combination cards, which leave your accounts vulnerable to hacking.

    Just a suggestion.

  2. Thanks for the fucking link!

  3. You are welcome, CPP. Our effing pleasure, of course.

    And thanks for the suggestions, Kelly. We'll look into the gift card possibility, and the move to the credit union will likely happen after the trip. We stopped reading HuffPo when it became a bastion of deranged and dishonest Hillary hatred during the '08 primary campaign. Just couldn't take it.

  4. There is an academic term for this postmodern emotion! It's called bureaucratic rage. It's characterized by intense yet impersonal anger (impersonal because you know that the specific person on the phone isn't the real problem).

  5. You should call them up, get through to the fraud dept. then transfer them to CPP. THAT will f them up.

  6. Actually while CPP is abusing Chase, consider that HSBC own banks all over the place, including the UK (onine bank First Direct). You might open an account with them on the understanding that you intend to use a debit card in the UK with it -- all sorted from the get-go.

  7. HAHAHAH! Yeah, I'll give those fucken banker asshole fuckers a piece of my fucken mind!

  8. Have at 'em, CPP. They deserve your gift for Anglo-Saxon outrage, which may or may not be the same thing as "bureaucratic rage," but, hey, f*ck 'em.

    Meantime, Richard, that sounds like a constructive idea, but I fear it's too late to start opening new accounts. The moms leave on Tuesday. I think at this point they should just plan to rob a few banks along the way should the need arise. I mean, really, could a Welsh prison be any worse than having to sit through faculty meetings in the fall semester?

  9. Eh -- prison/faculty mtg...think welsh prison quieter but less headroom. HAve a great time and bring back welsh versions of the coin of the realm. And a report on the quality of the Brains S.A. PG Tips teabags. Sticks of pink rock with the place names going all the way through. Lavabread. A rugby ball. At least one dragon. Pictures of sheep. And doorways.

  10. Anonymous8:30 AM EDT

    Speaking of robbing banks for your travels, you might take Tibor Fischer's novel The Thought Gang with you. It's one solution for bureaucratic rage.

  11. Anonymous11:57 AM EDT

    The bank that dares not speak its name has been giving me--to recall Charles Ludwig Dodgson's label for my line of work--no Laughing and endless Grief these days about ATM machines, deposits, you name it. I don't even have a card from them. And, opening our eyes and thinking of England, my United Visa has started charging extra fees for UK currency exchanges (NOT, as far as I can tell, with the Euro). Thanks for verbalizing my still inchoate venting urges. your imminency

  12. Anonymous12:27 PM EDT

    Two things: credit union & go watch Bonnie & Clyde--it always make me feel good when they say "we rob banks!"

  13. Well I totally believe in Credit Unions and support using SECU. That said, I had my card declined when I first arrived in Cardiff, when the hotel -- which I had already paid for in part -- decided it wanted some sort of card deposit beyond that -- in case I made international calls I guess. I nearly had a heart attack when they said the card had been declined and asked for another one. I HAD NO OTHER! I WAS BY MYSELF! I WAS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE TRIP! I WAS READY TO DIE! When I said in horror that I had no other, the clerk kindly explained that many banks [sic] don't permit this attempt at pre-payment they were going for there -- they lowered their request, and it went through fine. I did come home to phone calls on my line from the Credit Union asking about my card. But that was the only non-payment I got. Or partial payment. I have called them up before as you know. But nothing so completely blocked as you had. But still -- I hate this.


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