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Published: February 3rd 2009
My British debit card didn't work at Walmart, and it's not being accepted by any ATM. After using my American debit card, I rush back to Rebekah's house where I've been staying and hop on the internet to check my American checking account's balance.
Sure enough, as soon as that Walmart transaction clears, my account will be in the negative.
My only option is to call my bank in the UK as soon as it opens in the morning and find out what's going on with my debit card. So I set my alarm for two in the morning and fall into a restless sleep.
When the alarm goes off, I jump up and call my bank in the UK. It's costing me a fortune to call there because I don't have an international phone card and my pay-as-you-go cell phone is charging out the wazoo for the international call. Of course, I get one of those automated "press one if you need this, press two if you need that" and it only leads to more of those menus. Then they want me to enter my account number and sort code. Then my birthday. Then the expiration date on my debit card. Then my pin number that I use for ATMs. Then the 3-digit code on the back of my debit card. Then it asks me to speak my mother's maiden name into the phone. Then it asks me to speak into the phone what my question is. I say, "My debit card is being rejected."
"I'm sorry," the automated voice says. "I didn't catch that. Please repeat your question."
I shout, "My debit card won't work!" Stupid machine probably can't understand my accent.
"I'm sorry," it says. "I didn't catch that. Please hold for the first available representative."
"Thank you!" I shout, irritated. This phone call is getting longer and longer. Lord, it's gonna be so expensive.
Ten minutes later, a man answers, asking for my account number and sort code. "But I already entered it into the phone when I first called the bank," I say.
He gives me some bullshit about how they don't pass on that information to the customer service reps, so I read out the numbers to him. He repeats them back to me for verification. Then my phone service cuts off. I hear, "Your minutes have expired, please dial blah blah blah to refill."
"Damn it!" I don't have access to my bank account in the UK, so I can't use that debit card. My American debit card is in the negative, so I can't use that. I pull out my old credit card, which I haven't used in ages.
Twenty-five dollars buys me 130 minutes, and that should be plenty. An international call will probably use up those minutes faster though.
I call the bank again and go through the same automated bullshit again, entering numbers, trying to speak clearly into the phone, being transferred to a customer service rep. I'm on hold for fifteen minutes when I hear a recording tell me that my phone balance is getting low. I hang up the phone, really pissed off.
Another twenty-five dollars. Another long phone call to the bank. But this time, when I get to the step where I'm transferred to a customer service rep, someone answers right away. Again he needs me to read out my information and verify all this shit about who I am before we can proceed.
"And what can I help you with today, Ms. Pelton?" he finally asks.
"I'm in the United States for the holidays, and my debit card keeps being rejected."
"Did you call us before your holiday to let us know you'd be leaving the country?" he asks.
I pause, stunned. "No!" I say, not bothering to hide my irritation.
"Well that's probably why," he responds, as if that explains everything.
"What do you mean? I've been to four different countries, including in Europe, and used my American debit card there with no problems whatsoever," I retort. "How was I supposed to know I needed to call you to let you know I was going on a trip?"
"We do it for security purposes."
"I know, but when the person who owns the account can't even access their money, that's a little bit of a problem, don't ya think!!"
"Miss, we've unlocked your account," he says. "You should be able to use your card now at an ATM or wherever."
"OK, thanks. And thanks for telling me that I'd need to call the bank and ask permission to spend my own money when I go on a trip."
Now he's aggravated, "Ms. Pelton, this actually might have nothing to do with your holiday. With the severe number of account hacking and fraud within the UK, we occasionally lock the accounts so that the owners can verify their identity by following our security procedures."
Another stunned pause from me. "Let me get this straight. You randomly lock people's accounts for no reason just in case there might be someone else spending their money?"
I hang up the phone before he can waste any more of my time.
By taking money from the ATM with my British debit card, I deposit some cash into my American account to keep it from going in the negative.
I have to refill my phone time again--another twenty-five dollars. The entire ordeal has cost me about 75 bucks and expemplifies the fact that too many things in the UK are ten times more difficult. They complicate things just for the sake of making them complicated, have too many middle-men, and have meetings about meetings. The country lacks the efficiency that I'm used to.
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