Sunday, August 15, 2010

Finland III: The Bankers step in and say, 'No!'

(In this third installment of my blog series leading up to NHL Premiere 2010, featuring the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland, we look at some of the obstacles preparing for a trip like this can mean, especially when you do it yourself, and how to avoid them.)

It is the morning of July 1st. The 'Free-Agent Frenzy' is gearing up on TSN, and I am bound and determined to not only sit thru that, but get most all of this trip booked before I sit down and watch the rest of the NHL get better, while the Minnesota Wild just sit there, like they always have, never content enough in free agency to do anything early in the first day. (Not that they don't ever do anything day 1; it's just that they never get it done 'til early evening, or later.)

It's 8:30 AM. I start with the easiest segment, the one which has been on sale for 30 days already, the Eurostar train from London St. Pancras (departing at 5:25 AM) to Paris Gare du Nord. Easy. Standard class booking (at 1/3rd of the cost of First Class) at a £39/seat rate. Easy. Get the seats I want, easy. Everything about Eurostar seems almost too easy. We'll see. But onwards...

Next, to book Thalys from Paris to Cologne. Since they are both members of Railteam (Europe's association of high-speed rail operators) they are bound by similar policies in booking, etc., so they, also, have had seats on sale for 30 days, and feature a very easy process to book. I can't resist a €69 each rate for first class so we book two seats ('Club duo') on a late afternoon departure.

While I was taking a break after those two were completed to get set up for the rest of the day, I get a very strange call from my credit card company. It went something like this:

Me: "Hello."
Other end: "Uh, sir, this is the fraud division of (credit card) and we would like to discuss your account with you."
Me: "What about?"
They: "Uh, we think there are some fraudulent charges on your account."
Me: "Like what?"
They: "Well, there's this one from Thalys..."
Me: "You mean the one I just made less than 30 minutes ago?"
They: "Yes, that one. We'd like to know the reason that charge was made."

Mind you, I am getting really annoyed at this point. Everything that I have planned might just go straight to hell at this point...or worse.

Me: "Maybe I'm travelling in Europe, or maybe it's none of your business."
They: "Sir, you don't understand..."
Me: "And, I don't have to, either. As long as the charge is legitimate, I sure as hell don't need YOU to tell me how to spend my money."
They: "So this charge is something you actually did?"
Me: "Yes, but I still don't know why it's any business of YOURS."
They: "This is the fraud division, sir. We're just trying to stop any fraudulent charges on your account."
Me: "Believe me, this is a legitimate charge. I'm trying to plan a trip to Europe, but some credit card company calls me, and interrupts me, while I am trying to get this done, and keeps trying to stop me from using my card, for my own legitimate purposes."

(Think I'm irritated at this point, folks?)

They: "We're sorry to have bothered you, sir. Could we have your e-mail address?"
Me: "No, you already have it on file. You certainly don't need it again, unless you are going to SPAM me to death, which you're going to do, aren't you?"
They: "No, we just want it..."
Me: "...and it's already on the account. Good-bye."

(Hang up.)

I need to take a break and re-focus, so I sit down just in time to see TSN's Bob McKenzie working his BlackBerry for the first of many, many times that day. As I sat there, I became so irritated at the credit card company for what they did, that I was absolutely seething as the Wild were NOT involved in signing after signing. I took the rest of the afternoon off from trip planning (it was getting harder to do anyhow, as we were also having a new furnace installed that day) and watched, as some of the best players in hockey passed on being appreciated by myself and other Wild fans (and, some of the former Wild be signed away by other teams as well). It was getting to be a long, hot afternoon (we hadn't air conditioning for four days in mid-summer) but the new furnace was finally installed, tested, and deemed done. Finally, we could turn on the air conditioning and cool the house down, for the first time in days. Meanwhile, the Wild were busy signing the ex-Moorhead Spud, St. Cloud State Husky, and Carolina Hurricane, Matt Cullen, to a 3-year contract. The house was cooling down, and fortunately, so was I, after the 'credit card follies' of the morning.

The next train to book was a key train: Deutsche Bahn's 'CityNightLine' train from Cologne to Copenhagen, the third step of the process, en route to Helsinki. Again, another advance purchase, deeply discounted fare saves the Euros, as the two of us book into a deluxe bedroom for only €298 for this overnight segment. I'm feeling better about this trip as the day ends, the Cullen signing is announced, and I think all is right with the world. At least for now.

The next day, I find out while shopping that I need cash, so I go to my bank's ATM. My card will not work, no matter what I do. So, I think back and find that yet another card issuer has shut down my account, due to supposedly 'fraudulent activity' on my account. This time I am, to say the least, incensed. Another round of 'We think you have some fraudulent activity on your account' and this time, they want me to go to a 'banking store' (their phrase, not mine) and see a banker to verify my identity and that of my card! Unbelievably, I actually go thru this farce, only to be asked again 'why are you making these charges?' and the whole demeaning process is repeated, for a second time, with a different credit card company.

Moral of the story: Call your credit card company (or e-mail them), before you make ANY charges from overseas companies of ANY kind. Since most overseas charges don't fit their 'profile' (since, of course, it's not purchased in the USA), they will not hesitate to shut your card down, if you do not call them before the charges hit your account.

(to be continued)

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