Sunday, March 7, 2010

Commercials: they aren't just for radio, tv and the internet anymore!

I got my new VISA card in the mail the other day, and called the 800 number to activate it. In years past, this process has taken approximately 20 seconds- I call, punch in the number of the card, and get a recorded voice announcing that my card is now activated and ready to use. Peel off the sticker, put it in the wallet, good to go.

Those days are gone. Because the lovely people at VISA have now realized that as long as you HAVE to call them to activate your card, they have this great opportunity to give you a sales pitch while holding you hostage on the phone. You will not hang up, because after all, you want that card activated ( I only have one credit card, which I use only for big-ticket items like travel and hotels, but I do need it.)

I know I'm in a bit of trouble when, instead of being told that my card is now activated, I'm informed instead that "this call may be recorded for training and security purposes." Uh oh...

And now here's a chirpy operator on the line to check my name and address. Ok, that's good- just being careful.

But what comes next just gets me angry- an avalanche of verbiage, poured over me at a very rapid pace, from which I'm able to pick out the words "30-day free trial," "credit score monitoring," and "$12.99 per month." The missive ends with the chirpy woman declaring "so, let's get you signed up for that..."

"No thank you" I reply, feeling that I ought to play at least a small role in this "conversation."

Pause. "Well, sir, the service is free for thirty days, and if you don't like it you can cancel within that time for no charge..."

"Don't send me anything" I interrupt.

"That's fine, sir. Now because you are a valued customer, we are also offering...." and here comes another avalanche, this time including the words "credit card security" and "instant notification fraud alerts.." and "limited liability..." This gets me even angrier, since I know that, by federal law, my liability in the event of fraud is already limited. Chirpy phone lady finally gets to the words "$3.99 per month" and gives me my cue- "So let's get you signed up for that..."

"No thank you" I reply. "I don't want any special services, thanks very much anyway."

And now, it finally is over. Chirpy lady thanks me for my time, reminds me that I can sign up for the services she promoted any time, and informs me that my card is now activated and ready to use. And it only took six minutes- just about the average commercial break on AMC.

I didn't have to see or hear an ad for Enzyte, so maybe I should be grateful. But I can't help wonder how many elderly, hard-of-hearing or just plain dumbfounded people who innocently called to get their cards activated find themselves signed up for "services" they don't need and can't afford. I wonder how many people let the thirty-day free trial period slip by because they simply don't read the impossibly small print in that innocent-looking notice from VISA (because after all, 99 percent of the mail anyone gets from credit card companies is pure junk) or don't even read their bill because they haven't used their cards and assume they have no balance to pay (leading to crushing late fees on top of everything) and suddenly find themselves locked into paying a monthly charge until they can convince VISA to let them out of the "contract."

In my opinion, this kind of "lets get you started" sales pitch ought to be illegal. A signature should be required before any monthly fees are added to anyone's credit card bill. No store could get away with sticking something in my pocket while I'm not looking and then charging me for it when I walk out the door. What VISA is doing here is essentially the same thing- customers should simply NOT be required to say "No Thank You" to sales pitches in order to avoid being charged. I know the economy is bad, VISA, but that doesn't give you the green light to pick my pocket, or anyone else's.

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