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15 September 2014

Opinion: One decline too many

Bank's blocking proves too much in shopping paradise.

I’m changing my bank credit card. It’s not often I get so angry I make changes on the basis of “customer service”, but this time the bank went too far.

I’ve just been overseas for two weeks. Before leaving, I took the advice our own organisation and banks give – alert your bank that you will be away so they know your card is not being used fraudulently. I told the ANZ where I was travelling – the US, Europe and the UK – and when, and that I would be using my credit card. A friendly staffer took the details and thanked me for my call.

But when my card declined three times in the city that never stops shopping – New York – I was left frustrated, humiliated and wondered why I had bothered.

The first time it declined I had been standing in a queue for about 15 minutes waiting to make my purchases.

“Sorry, your card has declined ma’am,” the young woman behind the counter said.

“Could you try it again,” I asked.

“It’s declined ma’am, you’ll have to call your bank.”

I would if I could. The number on the back of the card is wrong. So then I open data roaming on my phone (more cost to me) to find a number for ANZ. Finally I get through to someone who assures me the bank is not stopping the exchange. “So who is” I inquire. The bank repeats it is not stopping the transaction. I hold them on the phone while the store tries my credit card again. It works. Hooray. It’s only an hour since I tried to make the purchase.

Later that day it happens again. I repeat the process. The bank again assures me it is not stopping the transactions. It must be the retailer, it says. “But why would they,” I ask. About 40 minutes after I present my card at the counter, the transaction is accepted. The frustration and humiliation of looking like a fraudster in front of others in the department store is forgotten. I’ve got what I want.

Then it happens again. I’m done. I can’t go through the humiliation again. I drop my purchases at the counter and leave. I don’t carry a lot of money when I travel. Credit cards are meant to be the easy, secure way of buying stuff. I’m wondering now if I was a young woman, alone in a city the size of New York, how I would react to being stuck with no money. Luckily I’m not most of those things!

Later I receive a text from the bank asking me to urgently call. Why it doesn’t call me I don’t know. And I don’t feel sorry for the woman who was on the end of my invective. It transpires the bank was blocking all the transactions. When I asked what the point was of alerting them to my trip, there was no answer. When I asked what the point was of ringing to say it was me using the card and the bank denying to me it was blocking the transactions, I got some claptrap about the system overriding something. The bank was deeply sorry for the problems I had had and it would pay for all my calls. It wouldn’t happen again. But that missed the point. I appreciate the bank has to be mindful of fraud. I have had my card stopped before when travelling but it was fixed immediately.

This was a shambles that should never have happened. I’m going to make sure it doesn’t.

About the author:

Sue Chetwin has been our chief executive since April 2007 after more than 25 years in print journalism. She was formerly the Editor of Sunday News, Sunday Star Times and the Herald on Sunday. She says there are strong parallels between consumer advocacy and journalism.

Sue oversees all of Consumer’s operations and is also the public face of the organisation. Sue is a director of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme, an alternate on the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission and a member of the Electricity Authority Retail Advisory group.

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