This part starts as I stand at the checkout in the Garden Department of the Walmart in Belle Vernon Pennsylvania. I am holding all of my Black Friday shopping in my hand. Cards that represented gifts for people that are important to me. There were also a few cards in there for things that I really wanted.
My PayPal MasterCard has been declined and there was no good reason for it. I had some money in my pocket. I bought what I could and then left. I was frustrated that things didn't work out and embarrassed because when the card was declined. I felt ... awful.
I had to make a decision when I was at that checkout. I knew I was not going to be able to purchase those items at those prices once I left that building. I had some traveling money and I thought I had enough gas left to get to Carlisle Pennsylvania. I could use the money to buy what I could but what happens if I use the money and there's something about my PayPal card that cannot be fixed? How will I finish my trip? How am I going to eat? In the end I decided to the chance and use the money I had to purchase what I could.
I got into my car and made my way to my hotel in Carlisle. I made it there close to Midnight with my gas gauge on E. I had no money in my pocket and didn't know if I was going to be able to get my room. I had guaranteed the room with the same PayPal card that 3 hours ago hadn't worked at Walmart. I had suspected that the reason my card had been declined at Walmart was because this hotel had put a ridiculously large hold on my account. My hope was that the authorization they had made would hold and they would give me my room. To my relief, I that is what happened.
When I got up in the next morning my very first call was to PayPal. I had called them while I was in the Walmart the night before but guess what? Their offices were closed to allow their employees the opportunity to enjoy the holiday. They sent everyone home on one of the largest shopping days of year when their system would most certainly be pushed to it's limits. I'm no Ebenezer Scrooge, when I owned a business we were never open on holidays. I wasn't in a business that needed to be open on a holiday. If you're in a business that you know people will depend on during one of the largest shopping days of the year wouldn't you want to have a few people to man the phones in case there was an issue? Apparently the folks at PayPal did not think so, they stayed home.
Once I got a PayPal representative on the phone I explained my situation. I fully expected to hear there had been a technical issue with the system. That thousands of people had the same problems I did and they were feverishly working to correct the problem, that they were very sorry. Or that the hotel had put some unbelievably large hold on my MasterCard for my room and that was why my card was declined.
It was neither. Here was the answer. "You were attempting to make a purchase in Pennsylvania and you live in Illinois. Our system considered that suspicious activity so for your protection your card was shut off."
What? How could this be I asked? I travel all over the country. I'm never in the same place week after week. Just last week in Canada over 3 days I traveled through British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan using my card as i went. Last Sunday I started my day in Grand Praire Alberta and ended it in Minot North Dakota. I charged gas in Alberta, Saskatchewan and North Dakota in the same day without any issue. That's 2 different provinces and 2 different countries. The next day I drove from Minot North Dakota to my home in Illinois and charged things in North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois without any issues. I was home for 2 days and then charged my way through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania without any issue on my way to that Walmart in Belle Vernon Pennsylvania.
If you have been counting that's 2 countries, 3 Canadian provinces and 7 states in 5 days. At least 20 charges. All approved, without any problem. Yet I attempt to make a purchase at a Walmart and it's "suspicious activity"? If I was a criminal on the run I couldn't have given a better road map of my activity. Anyone could look at my credit card activity and figure out I was traveling on I-70 east headed straight for Belle Vernon. Yet their system which allowed me to charge for things in 2 countries over the past 5 days could not figure that out?
I was also told that if I wanted to make sure this never happened again I should call PayPal before every trip and tell them where I'm going. Really? Doesn't that sound a little intrusive and unnecessary?
They "reset" my card so I can use it and I think I was told "sorry for your inconvenience". Now, I'm angry! Not good enough! I decided to take my displeasure to Twitter and sent out this Tweet
Followed by this:
PayPal is a company that was built online so I wasn't surprised when I received a tweet response. The follow exchange occurred:
Note: How I hate the spell check on my phone. The hash tag I typed out was #thespew and it was turned into #Theodore.
Then tweets this gem which made me even angrier:
The statement "Our intention is to protect our customers while keeping our service as convenient as we can" is an absolute falsehood. Their customers are already protected by law. It's called the Fair Credit Billing Act and if your credit card is lost or stolen and used without your authorization you are only liable for the first $50 of whatever is charged.
What PayPal is attempting to do is minimize their potential loss at the inconvenience of their customers. What they did was up their fraud prevention criteria to be more restrictive while they were out for the day and not monitoring it or it could just be for the Christmas season. They then went home without any concern for how it was going to affect their clientele. Whey should it matter them that people like myself were unable to purchase things? They were able to squeak out an extra couple hundredths of percent in profit and all it cost them was some extra calls at the call center the next day.
But their narrative is "they are protecting their customers". Sure you are PayPal. Just like the hotel I'm staying at is "saving the environment" by asking me reuse my towels. I don't think they care about the environment, they care about their bottom line. If they can convince those staying in their hotel to reuse their towels to "save the environment" they save money. They don't have as much labor time washing them, they use less soap and use less water.
Why is it that companies think we're so stupid? Why can't they just be up front about their agenda. Hotels are a great example. I would have way more respect for hotels if they would just tell the truth. "Hello customer! We are trying to keep our expenses at a minimum. So if you use your towel for more than a day at home and you can do the same here, we'd appreciate it. Otherwise, we'd be happy to wash it for you!"
In the case of PayPal, just tell the truth. "There are a lot of people out there that are irresponsible when it comes to keeping their financial information confidential. We're doing our best to try to keep our losses to a minimum. Sometimes we'll be a little too restrictive but we're trying to keep our costs down so we don't have to raise our fees." Instead, they try to convince us that they're looking out for our "my best interest".
That's the equivalent of pissing down my back and tell me it's raining.
The point I would like to make is that a company should not be ashamed of looking out for their own best interest. It's a perfectly understandable thing. Doing so is what keeps them in business. You can argue that doing right by your customers is a part of looking out for your best interests.
That is where this story takes an unexpected turn ...
Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.