8 embarrassing credit and debit card moments
In lieu of paying for what we want with cash in our wallets, credit and debit cards help us make safe and simple transactions. Until, unfortunately, something goes wrong. When they do, humbling humiliation can follow.
Here are eight times cardholders wished the ground underneath them would open up and suck them in. Don’t want to experience similar shame? While you may learn from some of these mistakes, other incidences are beyond your control. Take heart, though, as you could find yourself equipped with a funny story to share in the future.
1. Forced to ask an important client to pick up the tab. Before Alan Katz from Long Beach, California, was president of the wedding planning firm, Great Officiants, he worked for a company where he enjoyed an expense account with which to wine and dine clients. “One day I was taking out the biggest client,” says Katz. “We were negotiating one of the biggest deals of my career. I took her to this fancy-schmansy restaurant. We went over all the intricacies of the deal and it looked like I was going to book it and be the hero of the company.”
I was at a high-end retail store, big smile on my face, chit-chatting with the associates and other shoppers while handing them my credit card and, to my astonishment, it was declined.
Los Angeles real estate agent
Credit malfunctions dashed those dreams. “The bill comes, and I place my company credit card on the tray,” says Katz. “Minutes later, the waiter comes back and quietly tells me that it didn't go through. So I gave him my personal card, which for some reason didn't work.” Flop sweat started as the third card also came back a dud. Katz discovered later that the company was behind on payments and his accounts were over limit.
“Completely embarrassed, I looked to my client who pulled out her credit card and paid the bill,” says Katz. “Not only did I lose the deal, but I lost the client and eventually my job.”
2. Accused of being an identity thief. Jim Angleton, president of Miami-based Aegis FinServ, was entertaining nearly a dozen clients at a pricey restaurant. “The bill came and the cost for dinner was $3,880. I pulled out my American Express Platinum Card and gave it to the server. The manager came to my table and said would I please come with him?”
Angleton was informed that not only did American Express deny the transaction, but had instructed the waiter to confiscate his card. “I was dumbfounded,” says Angleton, who immediately called the issuer, and the mystery unraveled. “The night before I was at a different restaurant, and they gave me someone else's card by mistake.” When Angleton explained how embarrassed he was, the representative apologized and cleared the transaction. More, the representative requested the manager to send deserts to the table and offered to explain what happened to his clients.
After Angleton let his guests in on the gaffe, they “laughed and then we all took note that you must look at your card when signing for a bill – you never know when a harmless mistake like this could take place.”
3. Seemed like a smarmy scammer in a swanky situation. “I was at a high-end retail store, big smile on my face, chit-chatting with the associates and other shoppers while handing them my credit card and, to my astonishment, it was declined,” says Chantay Bridges, a Los Angeles real estate agent. “They tried it again, again declined.”
Assuming there was a glitch in their system, Bridges asked the cashier if there was problem with the machine, explaining that her credit limit far exceeded the purchase price. The woman replied, acidly, “Our machines work just fine; your card has been declined and if you need more details call them directly.” Still Bridges continued to try, but her second card was also declined. “In an attempt to complete the transaction and leave the store before I was furthered humiliated, I paid with my debit card instead and left,” says Bridges.
Turns out she had been sent chipped versions of the cards, but was still using the old, deactivated ones.
4. Tripped up by a tipping faux pas. Who do you tip, how much and under what circumstances? It’s common to get flummoxed when you’re put on the spot with a credit card receipt that invites you to add in gratuity. Which is what happened to Sharon Rosenblatt, an accessibility consultant from Silver Spring, Maryland.
“I was really excited that my therapist started allowing credit card payments to cover co-pays, because I was terrible at remembering my checkbook,” says Rosenblatt. “However, I must have gone on autopilot after one session, and I gave her a 20 percent tip! She laughed and told me she legally couldn’t take it, but I was embarrassed. She deserves every penny and then some, but gratuity is not acceptable in the medical profession, even if you do pay with Visa.”
5. Was “that guy” holding up the line, hunting for his card. We’ve all been there: behind some technologically challenged individual at the store, cafe, service station, or toll booth who is creating an ever-growing queue. What on earth could taking so long, you wonder? Jim Wang, a personal finance blogger at Wallet Hacks from Columbia, Maryland, knows, because he was that guy.
“I was about 10 to 15 miles from home and my car was practically running on fumes when I stopped at our local Costco to fuel up,” recalls Wang. “After waiting in line for what felt like 10 minutes, I pull up and look in my wallet for my Costco AmEx card.”
Unfortunately, Wang had left his card at home, but didn't know it yet. “I thought maybe it was in the back of the car in my bag, so I get out, look in the bag, all the while looking at this massive line behind me. If you've ever gotten gas at Costco, you know exactly what I mean.” Feeling the intensifying glares of the crowd, Wang eventually give up and drove off on what was left of his gas – and his pride.
Someone had found my card and went on a spending spree. I told police and bankers that I had written my PIN number on the back of the card.
|– Lynne Kasuba
California Bay Area artist
6. Screamed off the green for a bungled transaction. Cincinnati resident Bill Fish, founder of ReputationManagement.com, treated his father to a once-in-a-lifetime golfing trip to Scotland. “Many of these old golf courses haven’t exactly caught up to the digital age yet,” says Fish. “It’s rather archaic, but it obviously works for them.”
On the last day of their vacation, Fish provided his credit card to pay for the round. The older gentleman at the clubhouse said the system was down, so would try later. Unconcerned, Fish and his father trekked the 150 yards to the first tee. Just as they were ready to start, they heard screaming in the distance. “Someone gets my attention, and it is the man behind the counter yelling my name and gesturing me to come toward him,” says Fish. “I begin this long walk and miss our tee time.” The card had been declined, informed the man, who also tells Fish they don’t accept that card and there are no ATMs on the premises. “As I’m pleading with him, a younger man walks by, sees what is going on and swipes the original card. It goes through just fine.”
Being hollered off the green, a very public place, for nonpayment was awful, but it might have been worse for the confused worker who, says Fish “couldn’t figure out how to swipe a card.”
7. Made a rookie billing error – as a famous credit card expert. Attorney Stephen Lesavich, from Kenosha, Wisconsin, is the author of “The Plastic Effect: How Urban Legends Influence the Use and Misuse of Credit Cards,” and uses his credit card for extensive business expenses.
One month his bill was $20,118.38, and though he normally deletes the exact balance so never pays interest, this time he rounded the figure to the next dollar. “However, instead of rounding up, I rounded down,” says Lesavich. “I am not sure what my mindset was at that moment other than I remember being really tired. So I paid $20,118.”
Yet that 38 cent deficit caused over $200 in fees to be added to the account. The issuer’s contract specified that interest would be calculated daily and on the total purchase amount. Unless the debt was totally deleted, the fees would be based on the entire month’s balance. Making it more costly, says Lesavich, most of the charges were made in the first few days of the cycle, “so the interest on this card was also calculated based on the daily interest rate over 20 plus days.”
Not only should Lesavich have been cognizant of the terms, he ought to have paid more attention to the statement. “I called my credit card issuer and embarrassingly explained the situation,” he says. “I explained that it was very unlikely that I did not have another 38 cents when I paid the entire $20,118 and my payment was a math error mistake.” Thankfully, the customer service representative found it humorous and as Lesavich had been a good customer, waived the fees.
“So, even a credit card expert who has written a best-selling and award-winning book on credit card issues can make a very stupid mistake that could have been very costly,’ says Lesavich.
8. Had to admit to cops and creditors that she helped crooks steal her money. California Bay Area artist Lynne Kasuba recalls a “why did I do that and must I really say it out loud?” moment. One night while exiting her car, Kasuba’s purse tumbled from her lap. The entire contents spilled into the parking lot, including her debit card. She retrieved everything but the card, since it slipped underneath the car.
Days later, Kasuba discovered that her balance was incredibly low. “Someone had found my card and went on a spending spree,” she says. Alarmed, she followed protocol, which is to report the crime to law enforcement and the financial institution. But when she did, she also had to confess her mortifying mistake. “I told police and bankers that I had written my PIN number on the back of the card,” says Kasuba. Not a proud moment.
Sure, jotting those digits on the card will help you if you’re the forgetful type, but all that information in someone else’s hands it’s like leaving the keys dangling in your front door.
As you’re cringing for these cardholders, be sure to have some empathy, too. One day, if you’re not hyper-aware, something similar may happen to you. If it does, don’t forget to share your story with others. There’s nothing like a rueful tale to engage (and educate) a room full of party guests.
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