Costco’s Big Move from American Express to Citigroup’s Visa card went into effect two days ago.
I detest Citigroup and would not do business with them if they were the last bank on earth. The immediate cause for this disdain had to do with a charge that I needed to challenge, which led me to discover that Citigroup’s customer service doesn’t suck because Citigroup doesn’t have customer service. At that time, I canceled the Citigroup Visa I had and determined never to have anything to do with Citibank or Citigroup again.
So as you can imagine, I was dismayed when Costco announced it was dropping American Express, whose customer service is stellar, and replacing it with sh!t Citigroup Visa. I do not want to lose AMEX, so I sign up with them for two new cards, one for me and one for the S-corp, and figure that after the Costco Amex cards expire, I’ll pay with a debit card or a check if and when I shop at Costco.
Paid the last personal Costco AMEX bill on April 27 and the last corporate Costco AMEX bill on June 2. Balance on both cards: $0.00
Meanwhile, Citigroup sends me shiny brand-new Visa charge cards. The first to arrive, I dropped into a file folder, figuring maybe I should keep it, just in case. The second, for the S-corp, arrived two or three weeks later and got stuck in the pile of paper that mounds up on my desk like a sand dune until I shovel it off. Today I haul out the shovel and what do I find in one stack but this card, still stuck to its piece of paper.
I have never called the 800 number to activate either one of these cards. I decide I should cancel them both, given the ever-present chance of hacking and fraudulence.
But now, naturally, I can’t find the file folder where I deposited the first card. So I don’t have the card number. Maybe, I think, the guys at Costco’s customer service desk have it. Maybe they can even cancel the cards from their end.
Remember: neither of these cards has ever been activated. Hold that thought.
So I schlep to Costco in the 111-degree heat, hike across the 160-degree parking lot, and pounce the unsuspecting Costco CSRs.
Not surprisingly, they can’t cancel either card. But they do come up with the last four numbers of the missing card. With this bit of data, they think, I should be able to cancel the missing card, especially if I tell a Citibank Visa CSR that it’s missing.
That, of course, is assuming I can get such a person on the phone. The piece of paper to which the corporate card is still stuck has NOT ONE CLUE to how to reach a human being. Nor does it show a snail-mail address. But the desk manager there does find a flyer that has a purported customer service phone number.
While I’m chatting with the Costco guys, I ask the manager if the membership fee is automatically charged to your credit card (since I haven’t been dunned at the cash register for awhile, this thought has crossed my feeble mind). He says that can’t happen unless you’ve specifically arranged to make that happen. I don’t recall having done so, but anything’s possible.
I drive home through the 111-degree heat and call that number, not expecting much. Citibank’s 3-step MO is to give you a) a recorded message telling you how busy they are (you, of course, being a prole, have nothing else to do but wait on the phone), then b) put you on hold for ten or fifteen minutes, then c) disconnect you. It’s almost impossible to get through to a person, and when you do, the poor wretch usually can do nothing for you.
But evidently Citigroup has tried to clean up its shoddy customer-service act for Costco, at least at the outset. It only takes about eight or ten minutes to reach a person, though that’s after I’ve called twice trying to make my way through the punch-a-button maze. This guy indeed is able to close the personal credit card account with nothing more to go on but the last four digits.
I should’ve told him I’d lost both the cards. But nooo…I cannot tell a lie! What is the matter with me?
When I give him the corporate card number and say I want to cancel that, too, he says he has to give me to some other CSR to do that. So again I wait about ten minutes till another guy comes on the line. Again I have to explain why I want to cancel: i.e., “I wouldn’t do business with Citigroup again if it was the last bank on the planet.” This is the fourth time I’ve had to say that today.
He says the card is now canceled, but I owe them $59.73.
Sidebar: Citigroup contrived to purchase American Express’s loans, so whatever might have been outstanding on the canceled Costco AMEX card is now an outstanding debt to Citigroup. Willy-nilly.
I say I don’t think so. The balance on the AMEX card was zero when I paid the bill and nothing has been charged on it since.
He says — get this! — the $59.73 charge is for the Costco membership!
That means that Costco was able to charge a bill on a Visa card that has never been activated!
I say, I do not want my Costco membership automatically charged to any credit card and I did not ask to have that happen. Take it off! If (I think but do not say) I actually had arranged to auto-charge the membership fee, I would never have put it on the corporate card, because my son’s membership is on it, too. He is not on the corporation’s board and not an employee or contractor.
He says I’ll have to go back to Costco, have them issue me a refund, and then pay them with some other tool.
I schlep back through the 111-degree heat (the sky is clabbering up: it’s getting humid). I trudge across the 160-degree asphalt again. And I again pounce the customer service desk guys.
It takes some doing to explain to them that Citigroup engrossed this charge after the AMEX card had a $0 balance and so could not have transferred it over as an outstanding debt. It means that the membership fee must have been charged to the Visa card, since there was no way to charge it to the defunct AMEX card. The manager soon sees the issue. He agrees to issue me a refund on a card that has not been activated(!).
Amazingly, this works.
I now try to pay the membership fee on my debit card. But the payment won’t go through. Costco’s swipe machine won’t accept my PIN!
Understand, yesterday I racked up $80 at the Whole Foods on that card, with that PIN. I propose to pay with a check. He suggests I just not enter a PIN and it’ll charge as on a credit card.
Despite knowing that when you choose that option, the credit union’s debit card racks up debt on a Visa card (undoubtedly goddamn Citigroup’s), I decide this is the path of least resistance. I know it’s asking for trouble, because I’ve never once seen a bill from the CU after this has been done. But I think let’s just get this over with!
So pretty clearly I’m not going to be able to buy gas at Costco with my debit card. This a major inconvenience, because they have the best price on gas in town, and because their nearest gas station is much safer for a vulnerable single woman than anyplace else in the central part of the city. Oh well. I guess I can buy a cash card once a month or so and use that.
Or not. There’s a limit to how much unnecessary hassle I’m likely to put up with.
But the point here is that they somehow managed to charge up $60 on a credit card that was never activated.
Entertainingly, I’m not the only one who’s enjoyed this adventure: a current of pure rage is streaming through Costco’s website. A lot of people are saying Citibank is trying to charge them for transactions that they had already paid on their AMEX bills! So I guess I’m lucky $60 is their only unpleasant surprise.
If I find I can’t use the debit card to buy gasoline, I may look into Sam’s Club. Their website suggests their stores are very similar to Costco’s. Problem is, this area is liberally salted with Costco outlets — there’s one near every one of my beaten paths. To shop at Sam’s Club, I’d have to go quite a distance out of my way.
That might not be a bad thing, though. If you don’t shop in warehouse stores, you can’t spend copious amounts of money in warehouse stores…