I got a call this morning from the Girl Scouts of Los Angeles. A staffer had tried to charge my American Express for our annual dues and donation, and the charge had been rejected. She tried again while I was on the line; same result.
A few minutes later I got an email from American Express emblazoned “Fraud Protection Alert.” I called the toll free number and identified the attempted charges as legitimate. Then I called the main number to ask why the Girl Scouts was suddenly considered a risky operation.
The rep first tried to blame it on the fact that there were “multiple transactions,” but she had to back off when I pointed out there were only two, and that didn’t explain why the first charge was declined. When I asked her if there was a way to get American Express’ overly vigilant fraud protection software to back off a bit, she said no.
As I wrote in “Big Brother is helping you?“, these programs flag about 20 transactions for every one that’s truly bogus. It’s up to the card issuer to decide how and when to follow through. American Express has obviously set its bar pretty low, opting to inconvenience and possibly embarrass customers rather than risk a loss.
A surprising number of people tell me they appreciate these alerts and blocked transactions. They feel like the card issuers are looking out for them. But the card issuers are really only looking out for themselves, since customers aren’t on the hook for fraudulent transactions if they’re reported promptly.
Issuers certainly have a right to try to protect themselves, and reducing fraud theoretically reduces costs for everyone. But they should find a way to do so without needlessly annoying their customers. Otherwise, we’ll take our business elsewhere. As I did. The charge using my Visa went right through.