Today, a Pentagon City department store department store accepted my credit card and then two stores refused it. Last week, something similar happened. A supermarket refused my credit card and the next place I shopped accepted it. I dismissed last week’s experience as a network glitch. Today, however, suggested that there really was a problem. I leave for Europe in just over a week, and a credit card that is apparently accepted or refused on a whim would be very inconvenient. When I got home, I dialed the customer service number on the back of my card.
First I had to key in the card number, then my password, and then part of my social security number. An automated voice rattled off a list of charges, one of them back in April, and asked me to press 1 if I verified them and 2 if I didn’t. I wasn’t expecting this. I hung up, got out my statements, and dialed back, going through the whole rigmarole again. I decided to press 2 in the hope of getting a human being. I did, and this surrealistic conversation ensued:
Me: My card is being randomly refused.
Visa Person (after verifying my card number, date of birth, and the same part of my SSN that I’d already keyed in): Your card is blocked, and someone has been attempting to make charges with it.
Me: Yes, me. I’ve been attempting to make charges. Why is it blocked?
VP: Because we haven’t heard from you.
Me: I don’t understand. Why would you expect to hear from me?
VP: Because we called you.
Me: I didn’t receive any call from you. What number did you call?
VP: Your home number. It says here we called six times on (lists calls).
Me: I’ve received no calls.
VP: We didn’t leave a message.
Me: That’s ridiculous! You call six times leaving no message. How could you possibly expect I would call back? I am not psychic. Why didn’t you leave a message?
VP: Maybe you didn’t have your answering machine on.
Me: I have voicemail, not an answering machine. It’s always on.
VP: Well our calling system’s automated, and if no one picks up on the second or third ring, it hangs up.
Me: That’s one significant flaw in your system, and another is that the system doesn’t give an alert after a couple of failures and trigger a call from a human being who waits more than two rings. But you still haven’t explained why you were calling me.
VP: Because we put a block on your card. We called to have you verify the charges.
Me (more irritable by the minute): We are going round in circles! I know you blocked my card. You already told me that. Why did you block it?
VP: Ummmmm … It appears you changed your address and phone number.
Me: That was 12 months ago. Why would that make you block my card?
VP: … (silence)
Me: Are you there?
VP: Yes. And I’ve taken the block off now.
Me: You have still not explained to my satisfaction why you blocked it in the first place. I’d like to speak to a supervisor.
VP: Yes, ma’am, I can connect you. There will be a five-minute wait. Is that OK?
Me: I don’t really have any choice, do I?
It seems that a vendor who has had my information on file for several years for recurring payments called a regular charge in, and there was suddenly a discrepancy between the vendor’s information and that of my Visa card’s issuing bank, so a block was put on the card. I still don’t understand it, and it doesn’t explain why the block allowed me to make some charges and not others. It clearly means a call to the vendor tomorrow to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I just hope it won’t be another Alice in Wonderland conversation.