Monday, February 9, 2015

Credit Card Calamities

“Hello, you have reached XYZ credit card company. For lost or stolen credit cards, please press 1. For information about your account, please press 2. For details regarding...”

My friend, Jenny,* and I lounged on the couch, listening to the automated voice rattle off the many options.
“I want to speak with customer service.” Jenny cut in as the skype connection sputtered.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t quite understand. For lost or stolen credit cards, please press...”

“No, customer service.” Jenny leaned closer the microphone. “CUSSSSTOMMMMMER SEERRRRRVICEEE.”

“Thank you. Please state what topic you would like more information about.” The woman’s voice rattled on, far too chipper for my taste. “For example, you may say ‘accounts!’ or ‘statements’ or ‘purchases’ or...”


“Oh! I can help you with that,” the machine’s voice answered cheerfully.

“NO!!!” shrieked Jenny, “NO, YOU CAN’T. Customer service! Customer service!!!” We looked at each other in panic, holding our breath until the voice returned: “Please hold while I transfer you to our customer service representative.”

Whew. Stage 1 of the Battle of the Credit Card was complete.

If you have never had the privilege of living overseas and dealing with credit cards, then, my friend, let me enlighten you.

It all starts with one little idea...a little thought that morphs into a giant, all-consuming monster. What if I bought something in my home country and had a friend carry it back for me? Just stop right there.

 photo from
Have you any idea of the mess that will result in you being on hold with customer service for 3 hours when you try to order something because you are using a Canadian credit card to order an item from the US to be shipped to a third party...and then the Canadian card doesn’t go through and so the whole order is cancelled while you are in the village, so that three weeks later, when you return, you realize in a panic that the item didn’t actually get shipped, so you have to switch to your housemate’s American card...but because now we’ve involved a fourth person, the credit card company will call her US home, but then not believe her parents that this is legitimate, and so will demand that you call them back, but then won’t answer, and the deadline for shipping the item to the person who will carry it to PNG for you is shrinking to days...then you stay up super late so you can try to catch them in their time zone when they open up and convince them that you really do want this purchase?!

And don’t get me started about airline tickets! (Poor Jenny...)

Then there is credit card fraud. First you dance the “can you hear me now?” jig as you try to find the best spot in the house where skype behaves itself and doesn’t turn your voice into something from the Black Lagoon. Then the conversation goes something like this:
Me: I’d like to report fraudulent charges on my credit card.
Customer Service Representative: And why do you think they are fraudulent?

Me: Because I live in Papua New Guinea, a large island north of Australia. And I haven’t been to New Jersey in the last year.

Customer Service: I see. And do you have any reason to believe your card would be there?

Me: No, because my card is with me here in Papua New Guinea.

Customer Service: And have you purchased anything in New Jersey?

Me: No. I don’t live in the United States. I live in a completely different country.

Customer Service: You don’t live in the US?
Next is your opportunity to enlighten your company about the difference between billing and shipping addresses, and then you wait months and months for your card to arrive...trying to decide if the delay is either because it was stolen or because the mail service is just slow.

Now, six months without a credit card isn’t the end of the world in this primarily cash-only society—as long as you don’t plan on making any online purchases or having an emergency that requires you to leave the country. But, if you do, then it’s very important to dig through your pile of papers in your filing cabinet and find your card’s PIN number, because by this time, you will have forgotten it, and believe me, you’d rather not face the horrified looks of cashiers when you ask to sign (not an option in many places). And don’t forget to let your company know that purchases are being made across the pond. And then do it again. And again...because inevitably, whichever lucky person you’ve put down as your US contact is going to get a phone at all hours of the night, asking about the terrifying charges occurring in Australia!

No, credit cards aren’t for the faint of heart and will suck days of your life dry. But they are quiet handy—they don’t dissolve in the rain and there’s no need to carry around a bank vault’s worth of cash when you’re travelling. Unless, of course, you’ve been standing in line for the last hour at the airport baggage counter, ready with your card to pay the overweight baggage fees...

 “I’m sorry, we don’t accept credit cards here. Only cash or cheque...”

*names changed to protect the innocent ;)