It’s my money, and I need it now!

No, this isn’t a JG Wentworth, 877-CASH-NOW commercial. It is a little story about a local bank that forgot what it is like to be a normal person.

I order a lot of stuff online. I mean a lot. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to people who know me that I often order from overseas. I build guitar pedals, and some of the parts are only available / cheaper overseas. In the last year, I have ordered from Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Latvia, Lithuania, and a few more locales in far flung corners of the globe.

Last night, I placed an order. Well, I tried to place an order. Since, however, the company where I was ordering was located in a foreign nation, my transaction was declined. Fine, I’ll try again, and it will probably go through—I have plenty of money in my account. Oh how I wish it were that simple.

It turns out that 60 days ago, my bank changed their fraud prevention policies. Now, every single purchase you make is scored. If it scores too high, it is deemed fraud. The transaction is denied, and– get this– the card is deactivated.

That sounds great, right? You have to prevent fraud, right? Wrong, for when they improperly deactivate your card, it is nearly impossible to get your card reactivated unless you meet a specific set of qualifications. Yeah, they call you and have you confirm your purchases– or in this case, my local bank had a third party in Ohio call me– but that accomplishes little.

Once you have been deactivated, and confirmed that your purchases were not fraud, your account is left in a crippled state. Practically any signature/credit purchase (as opposed to a PIN/debit purchase) will be denied.

After I was told my card was activated, I was denied at the gas station. Then I was told it was reactivated again, and I was rewarded with the pleasure of having my purchase declined at the grocery store.

I spent 7.5 hours today, fighting with my bank in person, and over the phone, to attempt to get them to restore my card to its previous glory. I talked with the local bank president, an account executive, and the region bank manager.

It took a 7 hour group effort for my local bank to figure out what the non-local company they had hired to prevent fraud had done to my card.

I really appreciate that my bank is trying to work this out, but I am really not pleased with them. They advertise all across town that they are local. That is why I bank with them. Why is it, then, that a company in Ohio has my name, address, phone number, a list of my recent purchases, and the last four digits of my Social Security Number? Why is it that a company in Ohio– which last I checked is not local to the State of Georgia– has the ability to freeze my ability to use my bank card?

Now, how do you get the fraud alert threshold back to the normal level so you can go about your business the same as before the fraud alert? You must make purchases using the card as a debit card, PIN and all. The problem is that I do not use my card as a debit card. There is only one place that I use it as a debit card: Sam’s club– they don’t accept credit card. Otherwise, I never use my card as a debit card, since you are afforded much better protection as a consumer when you put ink on paper.

So after 7+ hours, the bank has lifted the fraud alert scoring altogether. They tried to get me to accept liability if my account is subject to fraudulent transactions, but that wasn’t going to fly. I’m not giving up my federally protected debtor rights—nor do I think I am capable of giving up those rights—just so my bank can expedite my departure from their lobby. In fact, my card has the Visa logo. I’m only responsible for $50 if it is lost or stolen, and someone else uses it.

At one point, the local president of the local bank was convinced my card was activated, so we walked to a local pharmacy to test it. He was sure it would work. I was sure it would not. I was right. That $1.75 bottle of Coke was surely fraud.

Anyway, to wrap this up:

- Don’t think that your local bank is local just because they list your county’s name in their title, and their advertisements say they’re local. Chances are, they send your information out of state to companies whose privacy policies are not disclosed.
- Don’t expect good service from your bank, even though you have had excellent service for nearly the previous decade.
- Don’t expect people at your bank to know their own policies, or how to navigate the red tape they have constructed.
- Your bank is watching you, or at least paying someone to watch you. They watch every transaction to see where you were when you bought something (and how far that is from your home), and how similar it is to your previous purchases, among other creepy things.

I’m looking for a new bank. My current bank lost my business when I found out they outsourced the maintenance of my account to a third party.

That is all.

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