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19 February, 2014

Turning the cannon on Bank of America

To be fair, I am amending the post below, to reflect new information that came to light. It turns out that this entire story is a case of "true, true, and unrelated." It is true that my card was blocked in Europe because of the bank's security and fraud prevention policies. And it is true that the bank canceled my card and issued a new one because of a case of potential fraud on the account. But these two events had nothing to do with one another. The card cancelation was actually happening anyway, and I had not been notified of it, because it was not an urgent enough matter to notify me, and my card would have continued working until the new one arrived. The fraud issue had to do with my bank having a large number of accounts compromised through a particular merchant (probably Target?), but it was only a coincidence that I heard about it during this issue around international travel.

The failing here was in the email support representative not explaining the facts to me. There was absolutely no reason for that person to tell me my card had been canceled. They should have just told me what to do to get my card reactivated, because the bank would have sent me a separate email, eventually, to tell me about the new card issuance. Instead a huge amount of confusion was created.

I can't say I am embarrassed for having reacted so strongly. I also can't say that I apologize for my opinions about the bank, since it is really a pretty horrible way to communicate with customers about finances. It was all sorted out when I finally spoke to a phone representative, which probably would have happened a lot sooner, if I had not been derailed into this rage at the bank.

Not sure what I will do now. Perhaps I will call it a wash and stay with the bank. Or perhaps I will decide it's time to move my business to a credit union anyway. I have been looking for good reasons to make the change, and hadn't had any up until now.

End of addendum.

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I wonder how many times I need to write the words Bank Of America, BoA, whatever permutation you can imagine, to get this story to trend on Google, so that you can benefit from my experiences and ditch your credit card with this bank.

I am canceling my Bank of America card. It is going to cost me a little bit, in terms of lost reward $, but using those rewards has been sort of like trying to get diamond from a mine anyway, so it's not losing much, really. The reason that I am canceling the account is because their "fraud protection service" is really about the security for the bank, not their customers.

Twice, now, I have been traveling, and had my card blocked immediately upon my first charge at the destination. Once this happened in the US, and once in Europe. The first time, was a minor nuisance, the second time, slightly greater, because it is not as easy to contact the bank when international, without incurring phone charges, and all that jazz. After the second time, I asked them, "What do I need to do to prevent this from happening?" And they basically told me that, any time I am leaving town, I should contact the bank to let them know I am traveling. This rubbed me the wrong way. It is none of the bank's damn business where I am, or what I am doing, as long as I am paying my bills on time, which I always have. If they detect fraud, they should make their best effort to contact me by text or phone, asking me to verify the charges, and if they don't hear back, then, and only then, maybe it's okay for them to put a hold on the card, with an appropriate notification sent to me immediately.

So, this week, I was traveling abroad again. I know that they might put the hold on the card, since they have done it in the past, but I figured, if they put the hold, I will contact them, because I refuse to notify the bank of my plans in advance. I didn't even call my own father before getting on the airplane, I am not going to call a financial corporation to say bye-bye.

I get to my destination, check into the hotel. Give them my credit card... declined. Of course. No big surprise. Irritating, but hey. I guess I should expect this.

So I sent a message to Bank of America, explaining my situation, and here's what they said:

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Dear Mick Feeble,

Thank you for your inquiry dated 2/19/2014 regarding your credit card information. We will be happy to assist you.

We understand that you are concerned about your account.

Please be informed that we monitor your account for possible fraudulent activity and ensure you are protected against fraud. Keeping your financial information secure and confidential is our most important responsibility.

As the account ending in 3691 was reported compromised by our account specialist, we have placed a block. However, the security of your account has not been impacted and your account history remains intact. You will also receive a letter explaining the situation as well.

Our records show that the account ending in 3691 was closed on 2/17/2014 and a new card ending in 5323 has been generated. Once mailed you will receive the card within 5 to 10 business days to the address on your records and can view the new account number online within 24 hours. Also, you will be able to use the card ending in 3691 till 3/10/2014.

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I love it. The best part is that I should know that "keeping [my] financial information secure and confidential" is their most important responsibility. 
The fuckers canceled my credit card. They didn't ask me if the charge was valid. They didn't attempt to contact me. I contacted them and, only then, did someone named Sally send me this message to let me know that my card was canceled. 
Also, they say that I can continue using my existing card until the new one arrives. But that is also untrue, because my card was already declined. It's entirely possible that this person has no idea what she's talking about, or that someone at BoA didn't read my message, and decided to cancel my card because they think I just told them it was compromised, when I was actually telling them it was not compromised. But the fact is, one simply cannot travel using a Bank of America credit card, unless one is willing to give this company a heads up about one's personal activities. It is apparently their business where I go, when, and what I do. And if anything looks fishy, they're taking away the keys to Dad's car.
I am canceling the new card they send me. I will walk away from Alaska Airlines mileage partnership that they offer. But you know what? I did the math. What I am walking away from is about 25,000 frequent flyer miles a year, which doesn't really get you that much, plus the "Companion Fare" ticket, which costs more than it seems. The card has a $75 annual fee, for which you receive a "Companion Fare" ticket for $118 (after taxes). So that means that you and a friend can get a plane ticket for $193 anywhere that Alaska flies. For some places, that would be just about the same price as buying the actual ticket full price. True, if you find a good ticket to Hawaii, you might actually be saving yourself $300-$400 on that ticket. So let's go with that, and say that you save $300. Then let's say you use those 25,000 frequent flyer miles to get another free ticket. 
If you go with a different credit card, that has a travel benefit, you'll probably earn about 1 dollar of ticket value for every 1000 you spend on the card. That's about the going rate. So it'll be just about a wash on the miles. So, yes. You're losing between $0-$300 on that companion ticket.
But for what? 
For the nuisance of dealing with Bank of America and their bullshit.
I'll give up the $300 and support an institution that was not part of the financial implosion whose repercussions we are all still enjoying today.
You wanted me to give you a heads up, Bank of America, and say "bye-bye" when I am leaving town? Here you go.
The train is leaving the station.

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