Lost in a credit card maze

by Steve Harrison

Computers and technology are wonderful things; well, until they’re not. Last week I found myself in credit card hell, perhaps only purgatory, but it was uncomfortable and frustrating whichever place I experienced.

It all started when John and I went to Pacific Sales to buy new appliances for an upcoming kitchen remodel. We had been in several times looking at various configurations, trying to decide if my HGTV dream kitchen was entirely out of the question. Once we had decided, we were told by many different people that ordering as soon as possible was important. Because of Covid, cars, appliances, furniture, and many building materials are on back order. Not wanting to be the cause of any delays, we ordered as soon as possible.

When I put my credit card into the reader to pay for the appliances, my card was declined. This didn’t altogether surprise me; I never carry a balance, and I never charge anything over a few hundred dollars, so this charge was not only out of the ordinary, it was dangerously close to my credit limit.

Indeed, when I called the American Express representative, I was told to expand my credit limit. I felt smug knowing that with my credit history I would not have any problem. Once she had pushed the magic buttons to increase my limit, I asked her to stay on the line as I resubmitted the charge. My transaction was declined two more times.

Over the next few days as I tried to figure out why my card was declined and then why it was red flagged, it became clear that my identity was being questioned, my credit card deemed inactive and my case put into the hands of the fraudulent claims department.

I know that credit card and identity theft are major problems in our world today, but I was shocked to find myself suspect after using my own card! Attempting to get to the bottom of the problem and then getting it rectified was frustrating, and at times absurd. My dealings with supposedly live, intelligent human beings defied logic. By the time one is put on hold for three to four minutes, transferred to several departments where clerks can only read from the same script, even the most stable among us would be taxed. By the second day, I was about to lose it.

Each person I talked to, at least fifteen over the two-day period, asked if I had received a text, an email, or a letter from Macy’s American Express. Never did they tell me where I might find this mysterious letter. Even after supplying two codes received via text and email, I was still deemed persona non grata. I finally stumbled upon “the letter” sent to my credit card account online.

Once I called customer service with that code, I was thanked and told that my card was now ready to use. Apparently, my time in credit card hell was over.

How many of us carry a credit limit that is absurdly high, thinking that someday we might need the charging capability because of some emergency? I do. Or maybe I would find myself in London without a pound. How many of us are comforted knowing that we have good credit and this safety net? And yet, in an emergency, will the credit card work or will we be told that we have to verify our identity because that emergency charge doesn’t fit our past shopping history?

As I tried to explain to one account representative after another, the aggravation I was feeling over the illogic behind their system, I was “reassured” that my card was now ready to use and that all of these preventions were in place to keep me safe. I asked if the agent thought that a real criminal would go to all of the trouble I had over the past two days trying to use a stolen card? Wouldn’t a criminal go on to a card that was easier to scam? The irony of my logic was not appreciated.

Like in the days after an automobile accident, I have replayed my interactions with the credit card company over and over, trying to figure out what I did wrong. Yes, I attempted a charge two hundred dollars over my limit, but that was quickly extended. Still, my card was rendered unusable. Without the magic code, I was suspect. Our technological age has made life so much easier, but God forbid if a computer deems you an unreliable risk or declares you not to be you.

Sadly, the various consumer representatives at many phone banks aren’t much better. Go off script and they really have no idea how to respond. The lesson I’ve learned is never have an emergency, or maybe call your credit card company in advance if you are going to have a big expense. The lesson seems absurd.


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