Here's Why Credit Cards Are Different For Rich People
Modern society basically forces you to have a credit card: Your credit score is greatly affected by it, and that sucker is used to determine everything from your employment to your eligibility to rent a home to whether or not you will be spared when the ant people take over the world. Yet so much of the industry is unknown, cloaked behind financial doublespeak and straight-up lies. We spoke with "Megan," who worked as a customer service agent for one of the biggest credit and loan companies in the country. She told us ...
Your Personal Info Is Only As Secure As The Credit Card Reps
Having your identity stolen rarely ends with some roguish academic using it to publish a breakthrough cancer research paper in your name. Usually, it ends with you having your credit score obliterated and moving into a nice refrigerator box. That's what makes the following sentences so scary:
"Telephone agents at my credit card company are not drug-tested," Megan told us. "And yet they have access to your SSN, phone number, name, address, etc. ... In the past, people had either used their phones to take pictures of accounts on the screen or wrote down the account numbers and pertinent info in a notebook. I can't go into detail about it, but, yes, fraud does happen. ... This has resulted in a 'no pen, no paper, no phones' policy on the floor. Now having your phone out while at your desk is a fire-able offense." But, according to Megan, people still have their phones out whenever management isn't looking, and we don't think they're using them to secretly watch porn at work. Although, that would be the less troubling option.
"Johnson! You better be looking at naked people over there!"
And sometimes the customer service agent might accidentally give a scammer all of your personal info because many of them are barely trained kids with zero supervision.
"At any point, you might be talking to an under-trained 19-year-old newbie who just hit the floor," Megan says. "I can't legally provide a third party with addresses, phone, or credit card number, even with the customer's permission, because we have no way of knowing if we're talking to the actual person or a fraudster. But lots of times after training I heard of classmates getting away with this because that specific call wasn't monitored. Hell, I've accidentally done it. ... One time, a customer asked what address I had on file. I said something like, 'Ma'am, I have 123 Apple Court here.' WHOOPS. I just potentially confirmed info for a fraudster."
"Oh, you forgot your own social security number? Well, we weren't voted
No. 1 in customer service for nothing! Let me just pull up your file ..."
Managers were almost never around to spray inexperienced workers with water and yell, "NO! BAD AGENT!" So mistakes like these apparently happened quite often ... unless of course your bank balance had two commas in it.
The Rich Get Far Better Service Than You Do
The rich get all the breaks: faster cars, tastier food, names with numbers in them. Speaking of numbers: If your credit limit has enough of them, you can get a personal credit card service agent who's forbidden from ever saying no to you, under penalty of torture. The sad news is that we're only half-kidding.
"If your credit limit is $20,000 or higher, you'll be serviced by the High Spend department, and we bend over backwards for our customers," Megan says. "We're actually evaluated on how above-and-beyond we go on each call, like troubleshoot website problems or app issues, call merchants with you, or even call you back so you don't have to wait on the phone."
"Uh, yeah, I guess we can do your birthday call to Nana for you."
That's right -- some rich people have gone their whole lives without being forced to listen to horrible hold music. And they say that money can't buy happiness ...
"There's even a program in High Spend where an agent can send customers flowers, a personal note, gift cards, etc. Anything to keep them happy," she says. "One time I spoke to a guy who saved up for years to go on vacation and called to notify us just before he left to travel the world, and I was able to spend $150 on a gift to help him celebrate his travels when he got home."
And we were totally serious about the High Spend agents not being able to say no to their whales:
"Now, to be in High Spend, you have to be willing to say either yes or 'I'll do what I can' to even the most ludicrous customer requests. So, for example, if a customer wants to double their credit limit, etc., I can't say no. I'll get in trouble if that call is reviewed. What I should always say is, 'I would be more than happy to do everything I can to convince management to approve your request.' I know full well that their request won't be approved, but I must try to make the customer feel special."
"Yeah, sure, let me ask management about financing options to reshoot the entire final season of Lost."
It's actually kind of heartwarming knowing that the rich are being lied to by banks just like the rest of us.
There Are Little Tricks Merchants Use To Screw You
Credit card companies don't advertise this, but the real money-maker for them is the "convenience fee" or "surcharge" paid by the merchant each time your card is used (usually 3 to 4 percent). Think of it in part as shops paying for the privilege of not having to handle dollar bills that might have been stuffed into someone's jock strap. The thing is, not every merchant wants to pay those fees and will sometimes tack them to your bill, even when it's illegal for them to do so.
"You either pay the 3 percent or I'm going bite 3 percent out of these carrots."
"I had a lady call one time asking about the fee and why we charged it," Megan recalls. "I assured her that we did not charge her, that it must be something the merchant passed on to her. I Googled it and found that this was illegal in her state. We called the merchant together. He was none too pleased with me, threatened to get a lawyer involved, at which point I said, 'Sir, we're talking about a possible $5 refund here. Do you really want to involve a lawyer to save $5?' He finally backed down and credited the customer, but that doesn't stop him from charging the next person who doesn't know about the law."
It might not seem like a lot, but for those who use credit cards often enough, it can add up. If you think you've been unfairly charged a surcharge on your Visa, you can always file a claim on their site. What you can't do, though, is use any of this information to weasel out of a credit card purchase.
There Is No Magical "Get Out Of Purchase Free" Option
We all make mistakes, but does that mean we should pay for them? Both your dad and credit card companies say, "Yes, it's the only way you'll learn." Megan elaborates: "Customers constantly call to try to back out of deals made with merchants. If you voluntarily pay someone, we can't cancel it. Like the time a gentleman called after giving a window company a down payment during a high-pressure sales call. He had no intention of buying the windows, but he wanted the pressure to stop, and he figured his credit card company would just cancel it later. That's not how it works. We can help mediate, but if the merchant doesn't refund your money, there's not much we can do."
This of course does not apply to fraud, and in some cases, your credit card issuer might refund you the money and eat the cost as a show of goodwill. But not if you're Joe Schmoe coming down from a night of drunk-shopping on Amazon.
"Hi, MasterCard? It happened again."
"It's like going back to the bank that holds your mortgage and asking for help because the house you bought is falling down," Megan explains. "You borrowed our money and made your own decision how to spend it. We can try to help, but as far as I've been told, there's no real legal recourse unless the merchant flat-out refused to honor their end of the deal."
In short: Credit cards aren't magical talismans that allow you to skirt all the downsides of cash. You got high and bought a bounce house. Now you care for that bounce house like an adult.
There Are A Few Credit Card Tricks That Can Instantly Improve Your Life
And now, to completely refute those stupid jerks that wrote the last paragraph, here are some magical credit card tricks.
"If you call the 'outside the U.S. and Canada' number, you'll automatically be put into the High Spend queue," Megan says. "You'll have to wait for us to look up your info, but an extra minute on the phone to potentially get fees and interest waived and maybe even some presents sent to you? Who knows, it might work."
Still staying in the land of semi-legality, Megan says that a few credit card companies will let you use your airline miles to pay for any expense that the customer claims is travel-related, with emphasis on "claims."
"You've never heard of PornHub Airlines?"
"I once informed a customer of that particular loophole," Megan says, "and the customer says, 'Oh yeah? Well, that diamond watch I bought at my local Tag Heuer shop? Totally travel-related. Let's apply my miles to that.' And I did! Saved him $800. That particular loophole is being changed, last I heard, but there's always something like that. Read the fine print!"
For those of you firmly in the "plastic Casio watch" demographic, there's also a little trick that might save you from being slapped in the mouth by your credit card interest.
"If you can't pay your bill off each month, make small payments throughout the month. Interest is calculated on the average balance you had for each day of the month. The lower that average is, the less your interest charge will be. ... Also, ask for a fee/interest waiver or a lower interest rate. Dear God, it can only help you, and if you meet the criteria, we will absolutely do it for you."
"You mean I can just ask to get it all waived? Shopping spree!"
If that doesn't work, though, there's one more thing that might help you out: Tell an interesting story.
"We're human. If you have a good reason for requesting something, tell us," Megan says. "It might make a difference. For example, the rep beside me got a call from a customer who was stranded in Europe. Her boyfriend ran up her credit card in the States, and she needed to come home early. Well, she didn't have the credit on her card to pay the fee to change her plane ticket, so she called us to see if we could help. We were able to help her get on her way with an increased limit, but if the customer hadn't shared that story, she would have been told to apply online or wait up to 30 days."
Yes, we're perfectly aware that, come tomorrow, a lot of banks are probably going to get a shit ton of calls from their clients claiming to be stranded abroad and needing their credit limit increased. Project Mayhem 2.0 is officially a go.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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For more insider perspectives, check out How To Find Anyone: 5 Lessons From Serving People Papers and 6 Things I Learned Lying To Banks To Fix Your Credit.
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