Tuesday, October 9, 2012

With American Express, You Don't Get What You Paid For


First transgression on their part:

In 1980, I paid for their green card, which I loved,
not only because was it my first credit card,
but it ended in the digits "007"!
(do I really need to explain that to anyone?) ;)

In 1998, they offered to change me to a free AMEX card,
so I did, provided that it ended with "007",
which, surprisingly, they did,
so I cancelled the old green card after receiving the new, no-annual-fee, card
(in case you're wondering, the difference
between their green/standard pay-for card and their "free" card,
is that you MUST pay the balance on the former as soon as you get the bill,
whereas, with the latter, they have an opportunity to make money off you,
if you don't).
Two years ago, they cancelled that no-annual-fee card,
because I hadn't used it in over a year,
without extending the courtesy of warning me in advance by phone, letter, or e-mail!
I understand.
I always pay on time, so you weren't making any money off me,
and, I have other credit cards, which offer rebates,
so, cut off your nose to spite your face, AMEX!

(I'm omitting another, albeit, minor, transgression,
where AMEX, for whatever reason,
had, accidentally, attached one of my credit card bills to someone else's,
who, fortunately, was a lawyer, and forwarded it to me;
a lot of people may have just chucked it,
and I would have had a lot of 'splainin'
to do to AMEX in the subsequent billing period)

Second transgression on their part:

In August, I bought an AMEX pre-paid/gift card
to take advantage of their "purchase $200 - get $25 bonus" promotion,
which expired on August 31.
I received it in early-September,
and had used it seven times since,
the latest being, yesterday.

Keep these in mind while snoozing through the rest of this:

1) It's a pre-paid/gift card, NOT a credit card.

2) They asked a LOT of personal info online,
including my full social security number.
How many retail store gift cards do that?
Answer: None.
Usually, it's just the last 4 digits.
But, the FULL ssn? Only scammers would do that!
AMEX claims it has to do with new banking and credit laws,
but, I'm not buying that (i.e., refer to #1),
because I've done similar with other retailers and banks,
and never had to be put through the "third degree".

3) The pre-paid/gift card was fully paid for, in advance, online,
from my bank account with cash.
(the $25 bonus would be sent 6-8 weeks later;
why they couldn't simply tack it on the $200 card is beyond me;
maybe to avoid scams? but how? the card is paid for in advance!
clearly, it's to save them a little money;
remember, they get to use your $200 for free,
until you start using it (i.e., no interest is given;
no big deal, since most bank accounts pay next-to-nothing anyway!)

(are you still awake?)

Given the above:

In a recent e-mail,
I got a note from them saying that my pre-paid/gift card was SUSPENDED!
I thought it was a phishing/scam,
so I logged onto my AMEX prepaid card account,
and, sure enough, it was!
Unlike most other bank, brokerage, credit card companies, etc,
AMEX doesn't allow customers to e-mail them for "security reasons"
(read: We can't afford to hire people to read e-mails).
I called the toll-free number on my cell phone (which costs me "minutes", BTW),
to find out what the problem was.
After about 3 minutes of select-1-for-English, select-2-for-Martian, et al.,
I finally got an operator, who transferred me to another number.
The gentleman saw the suspension,
then asked a few, simple, perfectly reasonable questions,
such as my ENTIRE social security number, per the above.
I was getting a little hot under the collar.
After about a dozen (I kid you not!) such questions,
he finally said, "Yup. It's you. Your account is suspended."
Golly gee whillikers! (that isn't what I said to him)
"So, WHY was the account suspended?", I asked.
"I have to ask you a few more questions to tell you that, sir."
I blew up.
He calmed me down, saying that he understood,
but it was corporate policy
You're fully expecting that I'm going to say,
"You know what you can do with your corporate policy!", right?
Well . . . yeah, I did!
Again, he calmed me down,
then said, "Did you ever have a phone number that ended with WXYZ?"
Considering that that question was never asked
when I filled-out the online form,
I realized that he had used my full social security number
to access my credit information,
which, even though I'm sure was legit,
it is EXACTLY the kind of thing a scammer is going to ask,
and EXACTLY the kind of thing we're told NOT to give over the phone,
because "the company wouldn't ask such questions!!!"
Again, this is NOT a credit card!
This is a PRE-PAID/GIFT card!!!
Why the f**k are they asking such absurd questions?
And what if I had forgotten about that number?
(I remembered it, but that's not the point)
And what if I was a scammer
with a 50/50 chance of getting that answer right? (i.e., "yes" or "no")
To say that I was red hot, boiling mad, at that point
would be an understatement.
Two degrees more, and my cell phone would have melted.
I exploded in a rage that, had I been exposed to gamma rays,
would have . . . well, YOU know!
After I launched into a tirade,
he calmed me down, again.
Still steaming, I said, "This had better be the last question."
"Uh, no, sir, there are two more questions."
At that point, a 200-foot lava dome formed beneath my feet.
I screamed at the top of my lungs,
that I was not about to give any more personal information,
at which point, he hung up!!!
He hung up on an irate customer
who was reasonably concerned
that his PREPAID (have I emphasized this, enough?) gift card
was suspended for no valid reason,
much less that he was asked questions
that were not on record with AMEX
(i.e., my private/personal information).

A few minutes later, after calming myself down
(ash was still spewing from the caldera,
but, at least the lava flow had ceased),
I re-dialed their number, but it was busy.
So, I tried a different customer number,
and got an operator who said the same thing
(apparently, this happens to them a lot between 11am and 2pm;
great to know that AMEX keeps on top of technology
and spends to keep their infrastructure up;
hey . . . you don't suppose that AMEX and the Federal Government
are one and the same, do you?). ;)
With steam pouring from my ears,
I politely asked for their postal customer service address,
and for what time they thought would be a good time to call.
She gave me both and I hung up
(DAMN that you can't slam a cell phone!!!).

If/when I get through to them,
I am going to ask if they can put my remaining money ($35.05)
back into my source/funding bank account,
which, according to my online account, they still know about,
and, which, according to their online "help", they *can* do.
Even if I was a scammer,
since it would do no harm to return that money,
it would be logical for them to simply do so,
without involving the Spanish Inquisition,
but, you and I both know that that's not "corporate policy".

If they say, "no", then this will only get resolved
after I answer all their invasive questions
(which risks my personal ID/info/security)
or I threaten them with legal action.
Again, this is a CASH account;
NOT a credit card;
they do NOT have my signature on file,
and there is no PIN number.
In other words, they have no way of knowing
whether any transaction made on that card is legit or not
(never mind that all of them were made within a 25 mile radius of my home,
which they have on record and I printed out from my online acct),
and, thus, no reason to suspend my account.
Even if something in the "Terms of Service" or banking laws changed,
most such are intelligently written to "grandfather" existing cards/customers,
so that nobody goes through what I did.

And, considering that many retailers, especially small businesses,
don't even accept American Express cards of any kind, anymore,
due to their high cut of the transaction (3-5% with a minimum of 30 cents,
which, if you use it to buy a newspaper or cup of coffee, is incredibly expensive,
which is why many retailers have a consumer minimum purchase amount),
you'd think they'd do everything in their power to keep customers (if not retailers) happy,
instead of turning on them, as they did with me, twice,
vis-a-vis, cancelling my AMEX card and suspending the gift card.

I'm not waiting for the third strike.

They're O-U-T!!!

P.S. Normally, I would end such a massive missive
with a cute line, such as,
"Thus endeth the rant. I'm going to my time-out corner, now."
But, I am so livid over this (though, writing it down helped a lot),
that, instead, I am going to get in my car,
drive to AMEX's corporate office and - -
well . . . the less you know, the better;
wouldn't want to make you an accomplice, after all!
(and, don't worry . . .
I'm already on Homeland Insecurity's list,
so, this won't affect my status with the gov't in the least!) ;)


FOLLOW-UP (a few hours later):

Well, I just got off the phone with them, again.
This time, I didn't even get the "Por Espanol - - " message:
straight to an operator!!!
(guess it pays to call after a certain hour!)

After she asked me to verify JUST my name and address
(no request for social security numbers
or ancient phone numbers
or any other personal information!
I suspect that the previous operator marked my acct with "pissed-off"),
she informed me that an automated, random, verification process
came up with a discrepancy in my ***BANK'S*** address!!!
In other words, instead of something like,
"My bank at 100 Main St"
it came up with "Why hank by 101 Gain Dr"
(she didn't have access to the specific error).
So, instead of having a human being check that,
so as NOT to involve or annoy the customer
over something so ridiculously simple for them to check on their own
(again, the PREPAID card had already been paid for;
I keep saying that, as if it should mean something to somebody),

they took away their rightful ability to use their own money with no explanation.

Fortunately for AMEX,
this operator was sharp as a tack,
and did everything right:
Despite the late hour,
she called my bank's customer service number,
which, fortunately, was still open, even though it was well after 5pm,
and they verified that the info was "off"
(she was not allowed to tell me what, specifically was wrong),
and she corrected it.
(again, never mind that they could and should have done this
WITHOUT ever having involved the customer,
especially as the card was already paid for
- - I keep harping on that fact for some reason).
BTW, it turns out that you CAN'T put your money back
into the very bank account you used to fund the prepaid/gift card,

of which they still had the info, as evidenced by my online acct.

So, my card is unsuspended, which I just verified, online.
The next day, I spent the rest of the card as fast as I could.

I'd love to tell them what they can do with the $25 bonus card,
which I still haven't received,
but, it's still within the 6-8 week period;
and, of course, they couldn't tell me whether the card had been mailed,
although they *did* have it on record that it was part of the promotion
I used when I funded the card.
At this point, I no longer care about it.
AMEX sucks, and I can't blame retailers for rejecting them, as I now have.
FOLLOW-UP (a few weeks later):

I went to Macy's to take advantage
of a huge pre-winter holiday sale on menswear.
I bought about $400 worth of goods
that I couldn't find from cheaper retailers
for about half that price.
The clerk then offered me an ADDITIONAL 20% off
just for getting a new Macy's card,
which would be credited to my account upon approval
within a few weeks.
I said, "Okay,"
and she put me through a series of invasive questions in public.
Fortunately, there was hardly anyone else around,
which may be unfortunate for the retailer,
especially given the proximity to the biggest shopping holidays of the year,
but, never mind about that.
About 3 minutes later (it felt MUCH longer), it was all done,
and I thought nothing more about it.

Two weeks later, I received the Macy's card in the post,
and, much to my surprise, it turned out to be an American Express card
with the Macy's logo on it.
The card had that adhesive strip saying that I had to call to activate the card.
Dreading the worst, I called, and, sure enough,
was asked for my full social security number,
followed by questions about my previous residence,
color of my car (I kid you not), etc.
I stopped the invasive grilling, told them to cancel the card
stating my reason, per the above, and hung up on the surprised agent,
who could barely get a "but" in edgewise.
Two weeks later, I received the bill, and, much to MY surprise,
the 20% discount was there,
AND the bill was about 25% *LESS*
than what was on the store receipt.
I paid the bill by check, rather than give more personal info via the 'net,
and, as far as I know, that's the end of that.

Words from a fellow Ulcerative Colitis sufferer

A trip through my UC history,
including drugs, food, drink, and homeopathic remedies
(warning: the following will be "icky",
especially to those who haven't experienced UC,
and I certainly hope it doesn't happen to you!

But, if it you have UC, maybe this can help.).

I am not a doctor, nor have I played one on screen, TV, or stage.
Always consult a physician for any physical or mental abnormalities.
The following is presented solely as an historical record,
which may be of use to fellow UC sufferers.


From my first UC diagnosis in 1977 (presumably suffered
due to the stress of being in college,
and drinking virtually nothing, but coffee and cola)
through about 1978,
I occasionally used a cortisone suppository,
but only in emergencies
(i.e., severe blood on stool, which was very rare)
(n.b., that product was withdrawn from the market,shortly afterwards,
but, it is still available through compounding pharmacies
(i.e., those that make the stuff on their own) with a prescription, of course;
to be honest, I'm not sure that it did anything other than turn my stool green!).

Through 1992 or thereabouts,
I was solely on Azulfidine (Sulfasalazine).

At no time did I suffer anything other trivial blood on the stool
(i.e., no lack of control or constant "going").

Then, I had my one and only colonscopy in 1993,
and my world changed, permanently, for the worse.
Despite the doctor saying otherwise,
I'm convinced that he clipped a biopsy sample,
where he shouldn't have,
because, for the next 2 *YEARS*,
I was terrified to be more than 20 yards from a bathroom:
Little blood, but no control.

Fortunately, in 1994, a different doctor prescribed a cortico steroid
(not Prednisone; something else, but I don't remember what it was),
which was a miracle worker.
Within a few DAYS, I was back to normal, with no symptoms!
Not even a drop of blood!
I stayed on it for about 6 months,
was weaned off it,
but continued taking Azulfidine.

In 1998, I had a minor flare-up (a little blood, but had control),
and the doctor/surgeon
- - who respected, if didn't agree with,
my antipathy of colonscopies,
insisted on the less invasive sigmoidoscope,
which showed that I had UC
(surprise, surprise, and $250 poorer!
plus, I wrote a waiver at his insistence (which I still have!)
indicating that I had been informed about colonscopies,
and that I refused that tool;
n.b., I insisted that the reason, per the above, was included;
he had no problem with that).
He recommended Prednisone, at a high, then tapered, dosage,
which did the trick, and I remained on the Azulfidine.

Then, in 2005, after losing my North Carolina job,
and without medical insurance,
and spending nearly $600/month on the Prednisone and Azulfidine,
and having been perfectly normal,
I decided to try to wean off all the drugs,
very, very, very, very, very, slowly.

I've been drug-free ever since,
although, apparently, those drugs, over time, caused me to have
permanent heartburn, requiring Prilosec or similar every night
(it's also possible that the Azulfidine
affected my ability to sleep for the worse,
as I rarely get more than 3 hours of sleep, since about 1992 or so).

Then, in June 2012,
I suffered a minor flare-up just before heading to my home State,
temporarily, to take care of my Alzheimer's-ridden father,
which resulted in a total collapse when I got back to my home;
obviously, all stress-induced.

I'm not sure what single thing, if any,
did the trick to "cure" me two months later,
but, here's everything that I did between July and September,
and am still doing, to a degree:

- reduced food intake at a given seating; eliminated snacks, even fruits and vegetables, cooked meats (thinly sliced deli meats are okay); subsisted mostly on eggs, corn flakes, oatmeal, rice, pasta, white bread (no rye, wheat, bran, etc), cheese; in other words, mostly bland, simple stuff.

- eliminated foods with added salt and sugar, caffeine, nuts, salads, acidic foods/drinks, fast foods, etc.

- bought 3 canisters of "Body Fortress Whey Protein (chocolate)" (2 lbs each),
and drank that 3-5 times a day (Walmart online has that for just $32 total (1); online only) with bottled water (2) (Walgreen's has a good price for their "Nice" brand water, which is just triple-filtered tap water from Texas, but it goes down real smooth, compared to Kentucky tap water, which is a little "hard"). If I got "bored" with the taste of the protein powder, alone (made in a blender), then I either substituted milk* for the water, and/or added single-flavored ice cream, but not often. One note about drinking: Sip!!! Guzzling results in faster elimination, which means it doesn't do your body as good.
(1) (I realize this seems like a commercial,but, you are more than free to use any similar product! FWIW, I did the research, and found these to be the best and cheapest around)
(2) (I occasionally substitute milk for the water; for the most part, I drink almond milk, now, to avoid any lactose issues, which can cause diarrhea; it's only a little more expensive than regular milk, and has a better taste)

- took multi-vitamins twice a day

- took Pepto Bismol (NOT Kaopectate, Rolaids, Tums, or anything else) and stool softener three times a day (WARNING: Pepto and stool softeners can have severe, negative, interactions with some medications, so check with your doctor or pharmacist, first!)

- researched the net for homeopathic stuff, and found consensus with "real" medicine, in the following, available in most drug and natural/health stores, so I took the following in capsule form three times a day (WARNING: these are supposed to be hypoallergenic, but, you might want to consult a doctor or pharmacist, just to be on the safe side):

    - Marshmallow Root (healing qualities for centuries)
    - Fenugreek (fiber substitute)
    - Flaxseed oil or fish oil or Omega-3 oil or Sunflower seed oil or similar
          (for the immune system, 
            and probably, lubricates the stomach and intestines, as well)
    - Echinacea (healing and fiber substitute)
    - Acidophilus (restore intenstinal flora)
    - Glucosamine Sulfate (takes the place of Sulfasalazine, 
            and lubricates your joints, as well! BONUS!!)

- tried not to dwell or stress on it, though it was exhausting; kept crossword puzzle books and sharpened pencils in the bathroom as a distraction; I suppose a laptop computer and a tray table would work as well; avoided the urge to force stool out, especially when there was nothing there.

- forced myself to stay in bed longer and more often.

And, finally, underpants!
Yes, underpants!
You're going to go through a few of them,
so buy an extra set,
and don't be afraid to wear them at night;
better to clean or toss underpants than PJs!
(if you sleep in the buff, you WILL regret it!!!).

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that UC
is a lot like a scab on the skin:
If you keep "worrying" it
- - both by overeating and stressing over it - -
it WILL get worse.
Keeping it "covered" with fluids acts as a bandage of sorts,
and reducing food intake also reduces the stool outtake
(i.e., low-residue diet, which is boring as hell!).

It took all of July and most of August of doing all these
- - which are far less expensive compared to prescription drugs - -
before I stopped going to the bathroom 20 times a day
(no blood, but, barely a teaspoon of stool each time).
It happened very, very, very, gradually;
I didn't even notice any changes, at first!
But, once I realized it was working
- - I kept my expectations to a minimum to avoid stressing over it - -
my attitude got better, which probably helped, psychologically, if not physiologically.

I am now back to whatever passes as "normal" for me, ;)
but am continuing all the above,
except for the diet part (back to junk food!),
and I eliminated the stool softener and Pepto,
and reduced the "pills" to 1-2 times a day;
when they run out, I will not buy replacements,
just to see what happens.

Had the above not worked after 3 months,
I would have bit the bullet and gone to a GI/UC.

Obviously, I can't guarantee anything for anyone else,
but, suffice it to say, that, with the above,
I am definitely, relieved! (pun most assuredly intended!)

One more thing:
(more icky stuff coming!)

Going so often can lead to "unbearable"
(vis-a-vis those disgusting, cartoon, commercial, potty bears)
and literal pain in the butt!
So, I bought a large container of disposable diaper wipes,
and used them after using very soft toilet paper,
and as little of the latter as possible.
It made a HUGE difference in how I felt,
both physically and psychologically
(n.b., Do NOT flush wipes down the toilet:
they can clog the pipes very easily,
and are NOT ecologically friendly in water;

instead, after using one,
I folded it, sprayed it with Lysol, and dropped it in a plastic shopping bag,
to be collected and tossed into a bigger bag at the end of the day.
No smell, no fuss, no muss).
And don't forget the Vaseline!
(another good reason to wear underpants to bed!)

(I *said* it was "icky!")