One of the things I don’t like about on-line subscriptions is that if you sign up for a one-year subscription to a publication – i.e. a newspaper – or a service – like a financial advice service such as The Motley Fool – the subscription seller puts in their fine print section – which is in really, really small print – that they will automatically renew my subscription using the credit card they have on file – strictly for my own personal convenience of course. The websites who do this, I have found to be morally reprehensible and no longer worth subscribing to because I simply do not want to do business with anybody that sneaky. They make me think of that great line in the movie, "Hard Times," where good guy Speed (played by James Coburn) tells slimeball Chick Gandil, “You know Chick, it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re always gonna smell like fish.” If I start doing business with somebody and find out they pull stuff like that, things kind of go downhill from there.
Sadly, I tend to get subscribed to things that and in my advancing years, I have developed a tendency to forget about things like subscription dates so, unless I pay very close attention to those kinds of details, I can wind up paying for subscriptions to things I am not reading or using anymore. One of the best things that helps me keep that issue under control is when I get notices from on-line subscriptions telling me that my credit card is about to expire, and they need me to bring my credit card information up to date so that my subscription will continue uninterrupted. That’s when I catch it and make the decision to renew or cancel my subscription.
Now then, I have always been under the impression that when you get a new credit card from the bank – or whatever institution provides the card – you need to “activate” the card or else the bank will not let you use it. They even give you explicit instructions with your new card telling you how to activate it and stay in their good graces.
And so, it came to be that in June of 2019 my CIBC Dividend Visa card expired. I did receive a new card in the mail along with explicit instructions on how to activate it, but I decided not to activate it since I no longer had a banking relationship with the CIBC. Not that I had any issues with them. I just switched over to the Bank of Nova Scotia because they have a branch closer to where I live and it’s more convenient – the nearest CIBC branch is at least 5 miles away. Thus, I dutifully paid my balance down to $0 and did not renew my card figuring that would be that.
And it was… until January of 2021 – two years later. That’s when I got a call from the CIBC telling me that I owed them $397.04 on my Visa card. I said, “There must be some mistake. That card expired almost two years ago and I never renewed the new one you sent me. I put it through my shredder.”
The Visa person told me that there was no mistake and informed me that the charge was mainly from the Globe and Mail who had been dutifully charging my card on a monthly basis for almost two years even though it was an expired card.
I said, “Well if the card was expired, why did you accept the charges?”
They said, “Because we honoured your subscriptions.”
“Well, why would you do that if that card had expired?”
“Because that is our policy.”
I said, “You mean to tell me that if I had tried to use that card, you would have honoured it even though it was expired?”
The Visa person replied, “No sir. We would have declined it.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because sir, it had expired.”
“So, you mean to tell me that even though I could not personally use the card – due to the fact that it had expired – you were prepared to let other people use the card.”
"I assume that is because that's your policy?" I asked.
"Yes sir. That is our policy.”
“Well then why have you waited to so long to notify me?” I asked. “You never sent me a notice or anything. Usually if I go even one month without making a payment on a card you people are all over me and start declining my card until I bring it up to date. I’ve never known you to let a card run for almost two years a payment being made and yet you still keep accepting charges – especially when those charges are being made on an expired credit card. Is that part of your policy too?”
“Well sir, I can’t explain that. I just work here in collections.”
I remembered a major lesson I learned when I was working at IBM and that was, “Always be sure that the person to whom you are making your presentation has the authority to make the decision you need to be made.”
So, I told the Visa person, “Well I am not going to pay this bill since I did not authorize it and I think this is your problem… not mine. Would you please have someone who can make this decision give me call.”
The Visa person said, “Well sir, if you’ll just hold on the line, I’ll put you through to our complaints resolution department and we’ll get this cleared up right away. Please hold.”
“Thank you,” I said.
So, after listening to about ten minutes of really terrible music, I heard the line switch as though the person they were trying to put me through to was going to answer and then… the line went dead.
Two days later I get another call from CIBC and find myself answering questions asked by a very machiney-sounding machine - not even trying to sound like a Siri or Alexa; “If this is – (Mr. Brian Keelan) – please push the number 1. Thank you. In order to confirm your identity please enter the year of your birth.”
“Thank you. Now please enter your birth date.”
Very frustrated because you are following instructions from a machine. Eventually, I wound up talking to a person from the complaint resolution department and after telling the whole story – again – to the complaint resolution person, I am told that they are very sorry this has happened but unfortunately there is nothing they can do about this – again with the “this is our policy” thing – and that legally I must pay them and that if I don’t, they are going to put me into collection. I ask them if their claim would stand up in court and am told that it would since they have taken this kind of claim to court before and they always win it.
I tell the complaint resolution person that I find that very hard to believe and say, “Okay, I’ll see you in court.” I was going to add, “nice complaint resolution technique,” but then I figured, “Nahhh.”
Over the next few days, I got three more phone calls from CIBC and went through the same routine with the talking machines with the addition of; “this call may be recorded for training purposes.” I told my whole story from start to end to a different complaint resolution person each and every friggin’ time. I now feel that the real reason they record their calls is so they can justify their position in court when I finally crack and start using abusive language. "See, your honour, he verbally harassed our dear sweet employee."
My defense would be, "Your honour, I thought I was talking to a machine!"
Finally, I get a call from a real human who tells me that he is in charge of customer resolutions and that he understands my problem and is quite apologetic. He tells me that if I agree to pay $190.59, he will credit my account with $200 and I will avoid any damage to my credit rating.
Reluctantly, I agree but with the agreement that, “This is it then. No more charges will be put through on that card. Right?”
“Yes sir Mr. Keelan. This will not happen again.”
I figured that would be the end of it.
Sadly it was not.
In the second week of September 2021, I get another call from the CIBC. They tell me there is now a $268 balance on my credit card and it's been there since last April and wonder when I will be making my next payment. I give them my best John McEnroe impersonation, “You CAN NOT be serious!”
The VISA person tells me in no uncertain terms that they are very serious. It seems that back in April of 2021, The Motley Fool had put through a pre-authorized charge through on my – by now – 22 months ago – expired VISA card.
“And you approved it?” I asked.
“You went ahead and approved a charge on a Visa card that expired over two years ago? A card that if I had tried to use, you would have declined.”
“Yes sir,” the Visa person replied.
“Why would you do that?” I asked.
“Well, you see sir…that’s our policy.”
“I see. It’s your policy to let everyone but me use my expired credit card?”
“Well sir…” and the bullshit went on and on.
I told the Visa person, “I think that if you check your records, you’ll see that we had an issue like this back in January. We reached an agreement, and I paid you about $200 with the understanding that nobody would ever use that Visa credit card from hell ever again.”
The Visa person said, “Well sir, I’m just here in collections. There is no need for that kind of abusive language. Let me put you through to our complaint resolution department and we’ll just get this all straightened out. Okay?”
“Fine,” I said. After another ten or fifteen minutes of really terrible music the line made those switching noises like someone was going to answer and then… it went dead. A few days later I got a phone message from CIBC asking me to call, “Laura, and try to get this resolved today.” She even left her number.
I called it and – surprise – it was their complaints resolution department. There were lots of voices in the background “resolving complaints,” I assumed. When I asked to speak with Laura, I had to go through all the identification protocols again and then a lady answered – who was not Laura – and then I had to go through the whole story of, “the credit card from hell,” again.
By now I was starting to get a little frustrated and I am sure she could tell – even though I had not resorted to using my rather extensive inventory of verbally abusiive words.
She still came across with the old, “I’m sorry sir but that’s our policy and if you don’t pay this, we are going to put you in for collection.”
I came right back with, “Okay. See you in court. I would love to tell this story to a judge and ideally… a jury.”
Next, I decided to call The Motley Fool and see why they had put a charge through on my account for $268 because I had never – to my knowledge – authorized anything like that. A nice guy named Damien returned my call and said that he could see that a charge for that amount had gone through last April as a renewal of my subscription to their “Advisor” service but that he would be happy to issue a credit for that amount to the CIBC. After thanking him, I hung up and assumed the matter to be over.
Of course, I was wrong. The CIBC Visa people called me three more times and when I finally answered, the complaint resolutions person got me to tell him the whole sad story again. After checking his records, he said, “Okay then… have a nice day.”
I assumed that he had looked at my complete record and saw the credit from The Motley Fool and decided not to push the unpaid interest on the unpaid balance thing any further.
Good decision I thought.
Just to give you the rest of the story, I looked up my Bank of Nova Scotia Visa file and saw that The Motley Fool had also charged my Scotia Visa the month before for $99 US for the same thing.
When I called them and said, “Hey! What the heck?” they said, “Well that’s our American account. This is Canada man.”
So now I am back in a bun fight with The Motley Fool over their "policies" and thinking that someone, somewhere is out to get me.
Now that’s just my opinion and I could be wrong.
But keep in mind what Yossarian said in Catch22, “Just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”