Bank card nonsense

29th April 2008 – 7.39 am

A couple of weeks back I bought a whole load of tickets for myself and a couple of friends for the forthcoming Sci-fi Film Festival in London. Despite having done this every year since the event started the large purchase of cinema tickets gets flagged as anomalous by my credit card company. Rather than buy them a dictionary so they can look up the meaning of 'anomalous' I decided this year that I would not have the credit card declined and immediately blocked when trying to buy the tickets and instead use my bank card.

This plan seemed to work. The purchase was accepted the first time without any errors and I walked out of the cinema with an envelope stuffed full of tickets. Not only that, but I was then able to make an impulse purchase using my credit card not ten minutes later without having to deal with a fraud office. This was a triumph. Or so I thought.

A few days later I got a letter through the mail informing me that there had been a suspiciously large transaction for cinema tickets made recently. The letter asked me to call the bank if I hadn't made the transaction, but it also pointed out that if I had made the transaction then no action was required on my part. I took this to mean that unless I flagged up the purchase as fraudulent then my bank would assume that everything was normal. It seems I was wrong.

I tried to get some money out of an ATM at the end of last week, some two weeks after I bought the cinema tickets, and although the ATM accepted my card and presented me with the option to withdraw some cash all that happened was my card was returned to me. No cash was spat out and no error messages occurred. I was not terribly impressed. I went inside and told an employee what had happened and I was informed that I needed to fill out a transaction dispute form, and that I would get my money back in seven-to-ten days. This did not fill me with joy. I was then told by another employee, to whom I had been directed, that, quite sensibly, I would have to fill out the form at a branch of my bank and not the one who owns the ATM, but that first I could get my bank to check to see if a transaction had been completed.

I trotted a couple of hundred metres down the road, for I only used the ATM of another bank because it was more conveniently located in the town, and popped in to the local branch of my bank. I got confirmation that a transaction had not been made at the ATM and was happy that I hadn't lost any money, if confused about what had happened. Frankly, I was a little disturbed that the previous bank didn't seem to give any indication that it was possible the ATM was malfunctioning and that they would look in to that. Maybe it takes a certain number of complaints before they investigate such problems, with it being cheaper, or 'more cost-effective' if you like, to stiff a few customers before paying an engineer.

With my card apparently clean and functioning I used the ATM inside my bank's branch. I got the same result as with the previous ATM, and turned to find the employee again to ask what was going on. It was at that moment that I remembered the cinema tickets I'd bought and the letter I'd received. It clearly had lied when telling me I needed to take 'no action', when what it really meant was 'you need to call our fraud department before you can use the card again.' I'll mostly overlook the hassle of being disconnected when I first called using the bank's internal 'phone, and that I had to confirm my identity with half-a-dozen security questions just to be put through to the right department.

Once I was talking to the fraud department I had to confirm my identity. 'I've only just done this', was my quibble, but it seems that the bank's internal systems are not linked for that purpose. That's a shame, because it is possible that the security questions asked are generated from a list that ensures the same questions aren't asked again too soon, and that the previous set of questions almost exhausted all the reasonable questions that I could be asked. The problem is that I pretty much only use the card to withdraw cash from ATMs and there aren't too many other transactions that I can confirm. This was highlighted when, struggling to find something to ask me, the fraud employee asked me what I had used the card for on the internet in June last year. I told him honestly that I had absolutely no idea, what with my purchasing items off the internet regularly and the date he is asking about being nine months ago, and luckily I was able somehow to prove who I was to him sufficiently. I got my card unblocked.

I am learning how to buy my yearly dose of Sci-fi film tickets, slowly but surely. Next year, I know I can use my bank card, but I will need to make sure I have enough cash on me beforehand to last until I can get to a telephone to then unblock the card.

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