Waiting For a Plane II – Paying The Bills

I was traveling for a couple of weeks last month. I spent a lot of time in airports. In each one I had time on my hands. As a result I wrote at least one post in each of the airports, which I will post over the next few days. After that, castles and Roman ruins and some things that will surprise you and (I hope) interest you.

I’ve been caught with a non-functioning credit card while traveling. It isn’t a pleasant experience.

It wasn’t that big deal in retrospect. I was trying to pay for some gas on a cross-border trip to the USA and my card was declined. I used my backup card issued by a different bank, no problem.

I later discovered that the card was declined because the bank didn’t know I was in the United States and thought the transaction was suspicious. Ever since that incident I have made sure to tell all the banks I deal with where and when I am traveling.

For this trip I went online to inform the issuer of my VISA card, to be greeted by a message that travel notifications are no longer necessary because the bank has state of the art fraud prevention measures in place.visa

Being the suspicious sort I phoned the bank. Same message, with an automated voice. I persisted and hit “O” knowing that with most automated systems that will get you a real person.

The very polite young lady, Laura, who answer the phone, explained the wonders of this new system to me. She sounded sincere. If a suspicious transaction is detected the bank immediately will contact me for confirmation. At the same time it will freeze my card.

It will also freeze my card if I use it at an establishment known to have questionable security for card numbers and passwords. The example she used was Wal Mart. I won’t comment on that, but it did make me wonder if the bank has had problems with credit card fraud at Wal Mart.

Do you see the same problem I did? When I am traveling I am not reachable by phone. Maybe I should have an international cell phone plan, but those are out of my budget range. I really don’t travel all that often, it just seems that way when you read this blog. Nor am I likely to be online when I travel; Wi-Fi is not always readily available.

I explained that to Laura. Her response was to tell me how great this security measure is and how it would prevent me from suffering losses through unauthorized use of my card.

I protect my card’s password. No-one else knows it. In fact, I don’t know it. When I was asked to choose a personal identification number I instead chose a word, in a language I don’t speak. I use the letters, not the numbers, on the keypad.

However, I know that credit card fraud is a huge business, billions of dollars annually. As I recall it though, the card companies eat those losses, passing on the cost to the consumer in high interest rates and merchants through high usage fees. If someone abuses my card, I am not out any money. So how are these measures for my protection?

In the end Laura admitted that I would be better off using cash when I travel. I had already figured that out.

Written at Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport, Montreal, May 20, 2015.


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