Column: Encountering some strange surprises with a credit card

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 5, 2002

Not long ago I decided to pay for some medical supplies at a local pharmacy with one of my credit cards.

Friday, April 05, 2002

Not long ago I decided to pay for some medical supplies at a local pharmacy with one of my credit cards. This particular card is one I’ve used from Oregon to Manitoba to Nova Scotia during the past few years. I’ve always paid in full the balance due on the account as soon as possible after the statements came to my mailbox.

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The pharmacy technician (that sounds a lot better and more accurate than clerk) took my card and scanned it though a slot on the top of the cash register.

This first attempt just didn’t register at all. Another two swipes of the card resulted in a void message. At this point the pharmacy technician took a closer look at my card. She said it had expired a month earlier. This was a real shocker for me; embarrassing even.

In the past whenever a replacement credit card came in the mail, I used it to replace the about-to-expire card in my wallet. Something was drastically wrong with this particular card.

At this point I could pay with cash or use a credit card from another firm. This other card worked perfectly on the first scan through the slot on top of the cash register and the transaction was concluded.

Before I left the pharmacy, the technician suggested I should check to see what happened to the replacement card. Maybe someone had intercepted my new card in the mail and was getting ready to either finance a trip to Outer Mongolia or some equally exotic place, or go on a wild shopping spree at my expense.

As soon as I arrived home a telephone call was placed to the 1-800 number listed on the back side of the expired credit card.

After several rings a recorded voice answered. This firm, like all too many other others, doesn’t have a real human at the other end to make contact with the public.

Now, allow me to digress just a bit to set up my next point. Last fall my wife and I were on a bus trip which went through Chicago. Our tour guide said we should count the times our bus had to stop at a toll booth. I counted six times from the Wisconsin line to the Indiana line. In a way, this is like trying to make contact with a real live human being (a customer service representative) in one of these telephone calls. There are a number of hurdles, hoops to jump through, or obstacles (like toll booths) to overcome before the purpose of the call can be resolved.

First, I was given the option of continuing on in English (one) or Spanish (two). Next, I was told to enter the last four digits of my credit card number on the telephone’s keypad. This was followed with instructions to select and use the number between one to seven, plus zero, which came the closest to the purpose of my call.

Then I was placed on the equivalent of hold to wait for the next available customer contact representative. During the next three to four minutes I listened to a jazzy piano arrangement of the patriotic tune, &uot;America.&uot;

Finally a real person came on the line. She asked for the complete credit card number, my mother’s maiden name, and the purpose of my call.

What came next really surprised me. The company representative said my new credit card wasn’t lost or in the possession of an identity thief. It had been sent to my address here in Albert Lea (which I’ve had since 1958) a month before the expiration date. The person from the credit card company said it had been returned to the sender by the U.S. Postal Service as &uot;undeliverable!&uot;

The nice lady at the credit card firm said the new card would again sent out in the mail. It arrived just a week later in my mail box. Someone else in the U.S. Postal Service evidently decided there really was an Albert Lea MN 56007.

There’s one point I want to emphasize with this long narrative. Watch those credit cards! If there have been no problems with payments, a replacement card should arrive in the mail about a month before the expiration date. If this doesn’t happen, then contact the card’s issuing firm right away. Above all, be careful with those cards at all times.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.