Saturday, 1 October 2016

And Then Our Money Disappeared… (A Warning)

Small print, we all love reading it, don't we? We’re into buying something online, but at the last moment there’s a little box saying that ‘Terms and conditions’ apply- so do we accept? Yes. Of course we do accept them, stop wasting my time, I want to buy that thing. We tick the box, because checking out every ‘Terms and conditions’ document would fill our days with trying to understand all sorts of legal gobbledegook (understandable only to lawyers, accountants and other Higher Beings), and nothing else would get done. So we tick the box for Yes, and hope that the people in charge have our best interests at heart. Which they do, of course. Every time. Of course.

But sometimes, not reading the small print can get you into trouble. So allow me to share a true story that might serve as a kind of warning about what can go wrong...

We were going on holiday to Canada, you see, and our travel agent suggested that taking currency on a pre-loaded ‘Travel Passport’ card was a simple way to take the best advantage of exchange rates. The card could be used like a credit or a debit card. Retailers would accept it without question, there would be no mucking about with expensive credit cards or travellers' cheques, this is the modern way to go. 

So that’s what we did. We loaded up the card with cheaply bought Canadian dollars, and the card, indeed, did everything it was meant to do. On holiday, we bought stuff. We paid for trips. We had meals out. But there was one thing we did with it, that the small print declared clearly, should not be done… but we hadn’t clocked this fact, because we were too tired and excited and jet-lagged… and to be honest in my case, too lazy. Financial transactions put my head in a spin unless I’m calm, collected, and not under pressure. (That’s why you won’t find me playing poker.)

So - everything was going swimmingly well as we traversed the Canadian financial landscape with our pre-loaded ‘travel passport’ card. Then one day, a cashpoint wouldn't give us some cash. Our balance suddenly seemed to be very low. A glitch? A few minutes later, an attempt to book an excursion fell apart when again, the card payment was DECLINED. Why? We went to another ATM to check the balance... to find we were about £2000 down on our holiday spending money.

A scam. It had to be a scam, surely. Someone had cloned our card. It had to be something like that.

It was a long walk back to the hotel room, wondering our way through a whole range of disaster scenarios. Then an internet banking check revealed the money had been taken… by our own hotel. For the few days we were staying there, they’d swiped a much larger amount than anything expected, the Scoundrels! We stormed downstairs to see the hotel manager, who patiently explained it was common practice for hotels to extract an extra security deposit of 100 dollars per night, refundable at the end of stay, subject to breakage etc. And nobody had told us. We were therefore 600 dollars down on our carefully budgeted balance for the rest of the holiday. Why?

Because we’d used the cash passport card. (Stay with me on this.) There is one thing you shouldn't use these cards for. Have you guessed? Yes. Hotel security deposits. Because when you show your credit card to the hotel receptionist when checking in, the credit card companies simply stash the transaction somewhere and never register it, unless you trash the room or drive a car into the swimming pool. But pre-loaded cards like ours? They're different. The money disappears from your account faster than a jackrabbit pursued by a coyote. And it takes up to a month to get the security deposit money back.

Of course, this was all our own fault, you see. The little booklet from Thomas Cook had a paragraph labelled 'Important- read this before you go on holiday.' But we hadn’t, of course, so we missed that vital detail. With 5 hotels, everything went smoothly, but at the Sylvia Hotel, Vancouver, it somehow all went wrong. (They didn't say they were going to do it, of course.) One of the other hotels expressed a little surprise when we used the card, but it didn’t cause a problem. Quite why the Sylvia seemed to think we would do 600 dollars-worth of damage, when their cleaners checked the room each day, is puzzling. (It’s those Brits, you know. So untrustworthy.) But we didn't check the small print, and that’s why we were stung.

It was solved, later. We luckily had a credit card with us, that covered us for the deposit at quite some extra cost (£200)…. And the missing money was refunded. Eventually. How useful it is, to end up with lots of Canadian dollars after you've got back, that then need to be exchanged back into sterling at a lousy rate! So be warned, if you didn't know. Some small print matters. And sometimes, pleading ignorance gets you nowhere when it’s your own silly fault.

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Any requests of subjects for future posts in 2016? No idea too stupid for consideration. And yes, I know I am a bad writer, so don't bother saying that unless you can write something better. But maybe there's a topic buzzing around in your head that you'd like to see covered... because I've got a keyboard here, it's loaded with letters, and I ain't afraid to use it.