So today was kind of terrible.
Not in a, “my host mom made me cry way.” Not even in a, “I worked on a group paper for six hours why god why,” kind of way.
Today was terrible in a, “Bank of America closed access to my debit card while I still have 10 days–including a trip to Paris–between me and home” kind of way. (Also terrible in a, “this is the 21st century, why does this have to be resolved on the phone, no, Senegal doesn’t participate in the international toll-free standard, I’m switching to a credit union” kind of way.)
So yeah, that happened. Apparently BoA somehow came to be aware that someone had stolen my card number and all of its accompanying security information. How they came to know this, I have no idea. The purchase that they had flagged on my account was legitimate*, so I assume something else tipped them off. At least, I hope so, because if not my bank has just made my life really miserable for no reason at all.**
The kindly customer service people told me that they could keep the hold on my account temporary. So now I just have to call them and go through phone tree hell each time I make an ATM withdrawal or a purchase between now and May 25th, at which point they’ll send me a new card. It’s a terrible solution, but it is some sort of a solution.
This whole experience was a nice reminder of how incredibly terrible American banks are at dealing with travel. For me to resolve the situation, I had to call the bank on a telephone (rather than providing my verification information online), because apparently I live in 1999.
American toll-free numbers are not free outside of the US (obviously), and the international toll-free number that BoA provided is international in the sense that it works in Europe–it is not recognized as a valid number by Senegalese phones. Google Voice does not allow free American calls if you don’t have an American IP address, so the last resort was Skype.
Of course, my school has completely nonfunctional wifi***, so when I tried to do this at school I was making the call over a stolen linksys connection. The call dropped and I had to go buy credit and use my USB modem stick to make the call at home.
Skype, weirdly, does allow free American phone calls even if you’re outside of the US. It does not, however, allow for your menu punching selections to be valid, which leads to a particular automated phone system circle of hell. SUPER FUN.
Once I finally got to a human, I was informed that there was no way to deal with my card except for them to send me a new one with a new, non-compromised number. Which would be fine, if a) I wasn’t going to be on two different continents in the next week and b) I was currently in a country with a functional post system. Debit card replacement strategies have literally no way to accommodate for those two things, which is sort of nuts to me, since I gotta figure that travelers are a high-risk group for having their credit cards messed with.
It was at this point that the customer service reps and I reached the compromise where I call them when I’m at the ATM and they don’t force me to starve in Paris (only possible because of my exorbitantly expensive international phone that my parents donated to me–this is going to charge their credit card some obscene amount, and I would have been screwed if I only had my Senegalese phone).
This entire system of debit card replacement completely, completely breaks when you introduce travel (particularly to somewhere other than Western Europe or the US) into the mix. Yay, banking!
I currently have about $8 to my name, $2 of which I owe to my program director. Here’s hoping the ATM trick works.
* It was $1. Paid to Google. For AdWords. No, really, this is my life.
** Making them, basically, the TSA.
*** CIEE Dakar, for the record. This issue drives me insane. That particular part of the brochure is a lie. Also, using some stranger’s wifi is quite possibly how I got my information stolen in the first place, who knows.