Saturday, June 9, 2012
I've tried to eliminate as much unnecessary stress from my life as possible, and I think I've done okay. It's a little annoying how I depend so much on my laptop to earn a living, but the alternative of not working in my pants in a different bed each week would be a lot worse, so I get by.
Aside from my laptop, there are very few items I'm carrying that I'd consider 'essential.' My British laptop plug might be annoying to replace out here, and I'm resigned to the inevitability of my camera breaking, but in terms of inconvenience turning into disaster, there's only my passport and bank card I need to keep a tight hold of. This isn't due to affection. My bank card can be a dick.
Before I left the UK, I upgraded my account with a bank that shall remain nameless. Let's call them HSBD. I pay £12.95 a month, basically for the privilege of not having any charges or excessively shoddy exchange rates when taking out cash at international ATMs (apart from in Thailand, which is a dick to everyone). There's some other stuff bundled in the account, but I've never been interested enough to look. I know it doesn't include common sense fraud detection though.
I've lost count of the number of times my card has been randomly frozen due to suspicion of fraud, which is a shame because this rant would look better with some damning figures. It's at least five times this year so far (twice on the same day), and it happened a lot in my first six months of travelling too, before an uncharacteristic period where my bank didn't jeopardise my life that was too good to last. During that time, HSBC just liked to make me wait around for a few weeks while they procrastinated in sending me a rubbish security device for online banking that they'd decided I needed. A few weeks is a long time to be stranded in Malacca.
I can sort of understand why they think my card might have fallen into evil hands (well, eviller) when they see so many international transactions being made, even though I keep my travel plans on my bank's website meticulously updated as I go along, which I thought was the point of doing that. I pay for pretty much everything in cash and don't use my card for much apart from withdrawals, and these fraud alerts mostly happen when I make reservations through a hostel booking website that will remain nameless but is called Hostelworld.com. According to my bank statements, they're based in Cambridge - clearly, a British bank account paying into another British bank account is more suspicious than withdrawing a couple of weeks' funds at a Sri Lanka cash machine. Maybe I'm complaining about the wrong company.
I wouldn't have minded if this just happened the one time (I would have minded), but whatever automated fraud detection system they're using is clearly incapable of learning, as this happens again and again. It's also not even 100% effective, so sometimes I don't know if my card's been frozen again or if there's something else going on. I dashed around this week trying every Visa compatible ATM I could find and being informed 'Do not honor' in the Klingon translation, but when I tracked down the main (only) HSBD office, I was able to make three small withdrawals from their machine before my honor was once again called into question.
Their staff weren't able to help me, of course, but I didn't expect them to. Don't be fooled by the advertising or the world map on your debit card, there's nothing international about your HSBC account. I mean, HSBD. Maybe I should just open a second account with a new card, and not travel recklessly without funds in the optimism that I'll always be able to withdraw money when I get there? No, that doesn't sound very realistic. I didn't even bother getting a second email account until China forced me to.
It's not quite as bad as PayPal, which rejects literally any transaction I ever make and requires me to change my security preferences and upload my passport photo again again again again again, as well as charging really insulting exchange rates, but I'm not going into PayPal here. This bitter post, written fresh from having to phone my bank twice to be able to use my own card and pay for a bed to sleep in, was supposed to be therapy, but that would just depress me. I'm going to listen to some Dismember while I eat a whole box of Couque Dasse, piss off.