Saturday, February 4, 2012

Visa Debit fiasco

How many of us have debit cards we rely on? Not credit cards, where we are borrowing money, but debit cards that are linked to our personal accounts and deduct money, real money that we have earned and deposited into our trusted financial institutions?

Even as I type that I find the words "trust" and "financial institutions" used in the same sentence to be silly. Stupid, ignorant, and estupido grande.

Let me share my nightmare.

This is a true living breathing nightmare, not one imagined in the dark while in REM sleep.

I have had a Visa debit card for a few years. I never use it online. I use it in my little local circle of grocery stores and gas stations, and yes, I will admit, the Walmart. I also use it at the Redbox, a place to rent DVD's- usually found at the aforementioned grocery stores.

I found that swiping my card and pushing a few buttons was much preferred over tediously writing out a check. Redbox doesn't take checks, so there the card was indispensable.

The very beginning of December 2012 I broke my own rule and made an internet purchase on a "secure" site. The savings of purchasing the product online rather than locally was too great a temptation for this Scottish descendent. *winks*

The December bank statement showed that purchase and my regular local purchases.

The January statement was a different story.

There were two withdrawals totalling almost $200 that I had not made. I immediately called the bank.

The bank asked me a series on intricate questions to make sure I was me.
"Where did you open up your initial account?"
(that was tricky because I have had accounts with that bank off and on for 30 years)
"What were your most recent transactions?
"What is your social security number?
and then I found out that my account was wiped clean in the previous two days since the statement I had in my hand.

I had a balance of $16.

The bank immediately cancelled the card. Then the bank wanted me to call the various places where the charges had been made. I hit the roof with the bank, and agreed to at least try and call paypal (yes, someone linked my card to paypal even though I have no paypal account)

I called paypal in California. Over ten minutes on the phone repeatedly telling the people on the other line, "I have no paypal account!" "I don't have transaction records because I DID NOT MAKE THE TRANSACTION!" Another ten minutes of being put on hold that sounded like a connection in limbo land. I hung up and headed to the bank.

I had to drive a nearly 50 mile round trip to sign "disputes". Four of them. The woman "helping" me at the bank said that two of them could not be sent on to the head office until they cleared. WTH?

Apparently when an ATM transaction happens over a weekend, the bank grants a "pre-approval" and takes the money out of the account in question. But the payout bank has to submit a separate request for the money.

Translation: my bank docked my account for $400 and waited until the other bank requested the money to actually send the money. Where the money sits in the meantime, I am not sure, most likely in the bank's coffers collecting interest.

Although I was disputing the transaction, my bank was sending that money anyhow. The woman at the bank said she would send the dispute papers on to the main branch once the transaction cleared. I didn't have much confidence in her but rather than calling the bank everyday I figured she would do her job and left it alone.

I signed four dispute papers and left the bank with nothing in my hand but the bank statement I had arrived with. That felt very strange. Every other time I have ever had any dealing with the bank, I am given lots of papers that I have signed and some I have not signed. So I felt a little uncomfortable that I was leaving this on words and not hard copies of proof in my hand.

I was really mad that given our technological abilities, including those of google and every other website you visit having the ability to track your every move- likes, search queries, etc., that my Visa debit account had allowed ATM transactions in MALTA while I was merrily swiping it the same day at the local grocery store!!!

Nevermind the fact that it was the week before my birthday and the rats wiped my account clean.

Personal pit party aside, this is what happened next:

I receive a letter from cardholder services saying that "unusual activity had been detected on my account and my card had been cancelled."
I had personally alerted the bank and cancelled the card myself on a Monday. The letter from cardholder services was dated Sunday and postmarked Wednesday. Fishy business!!

Next I received a leetter from my bank saying that one of the charges was in error and they were giving me my money back on that charge. The second charge needed "further investigation", which they could take up to 45 days. In the meantime they were granting me "provisional credit" in that amount and would notify me when it was finalized or revoked.


Yes, the bank tried to tell me they gave me the money back, both of those disputes, when they really only gave me one back. Oh, the bank tried to say that provisional credit is never revoked but I don't want to be the first in that department.

What of the last two charges? I called the bank a week after signing the disputes and left a voicemail. Oh, yeah those two disputes.

The bank claimed that the other bank changed the amount of the charge so the woman watching for the transactions to come through missed it. So she never sent the other two dispute papers to the main office. The main office said they were "working on them now."

And low and behold those disputes came through "more investigation needed, provisional credit granted."

So what's up with Visa?
This fraud would be a loss for Visa, so why aren't they more proactive about stopping it? Maybe loss is a good thing when it comes to a big company writing off money to offset profits.

What's up with the bank? La-te-da, this happens all the time, we'll just give you provisional credit for 45 days.? How many times does it happen that the bank account holder misses one of these transactions? The only ones that can be claimed are the ones that are noticed, sounds like a lose-lose for the debit card holder.

The big questions:
Who is spending the money, and on what?
Why is it allowed to happen in the first place?
Where is the money in limbo land?
Who stands to profit from it?
Who are the big losers?

I can answer the last question. The big losers are the taxpayers. think about it.

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