Is it just me, or is anyone else quite as hopeless when it comes to managing bank accounts or in fact managing anything remotely to do with admin back home? Living overseas for me means that UK admin is ‘out of sight, so utterly out of mind’.
How often do I check my UK bank balance online, or fill out those pesky ‘we are updating your contact information‘ forms and you have to write back – NO I CAN’T PROVE MY PHYSICAL ADDRESS BECAUSE OUR MAIL USES A PO BOX SYSTEM. Not often enough. And I love that my bank insists on only sending highly important notifications (for instance, that they are going to charge me a daily overdraft penalty that they have decided to levy) by snail mail. Since we have a totally unreliable local postal system where letters from UK can take between 2 weeks and 2 months to arrive and parcels invariably get lost or stolen, I find myself in the hands of my mother, who is now in partial charge of my UK finances. Eek. Not a particularly comfortable position to be in when you are over 40 and married with 3 kids!
“Darling, I by mistake opened one of your bank statements and you are badly overdrawn. What do you propose to do about it?”
I’m not sure if you will agree, but in my opinion the post-war/generation above are basically allergic to borrowing in any form, so being overdrawn by even 5 pounds is viewed as shameful – so thank goodness we live in East Africa where banks do not allow you to go into the red because I was fostering some pretty unhealthy habits when I was living back home. However, I digress, fortunately my eldest teenage daughter has dragged me back into the land of checking my UK bank account more regularly since she’s putting in requests for online clothing purchases from dodgy EBay and D-Pop sites (really, an 80s tracksuit top/shell suit jacket in pink, turquoise and green?!) on a pretty much monthly basis.
So last month my completely heart sank when I saw that 79 pounds had just left my account to be paid out to Amazon Prime, leaving my balance looking a bit less than healthy (i.e. money tends to go out more than it goes in). ‘What the….?’ I thought. I hadn’t ordered anything from Amazon, so was flummoxed. It was a Sunday. The daughter’s ASOS jeans purchase would have to go on hold.
Fortunately helplines are open 7 days a week, so I called the bank. There’s plenty of holding and ‘dial one for the operator’ that goes on before you get to speak to anyone and as the minutes tick past on the iphone, so does the cost of the call – but some things need answers immediately and a lengthy call to the UK is justified.
So the bank operator who I spoke to, Angela, was extremely sparky and helpful (UK bank – you are almost forgiven for those nasty ‘physical post only’ letters).
“79 pounds? Amazon Prime? Oh this is the 3rd call I’ve dealt with on this exact issue this morning.”
Angela very patiently explained to me that I must have, at some point, ticked the box for a free x30 day Amazon Prime trial. Yes, I think to myself, that is quite likely – since a ‘next day delivery’ might have been urgently needed when I was back home (again, I’m not very good on the admin side). The Amazon trick is that they don’t notify you in any way when the 30 day trial expires – which automatically commits you to an annual subscription fee of 79 pounds. The idea is that if you signed up for a 30 day free trial, the onus is on you to cancel it before the 30 days have expired. Again, the patient lady explained that Amazon Prime is useful for, not just fast delivery but downloading movies and music which apparently works pretty well for people who live in the UK. A bit like BBC iplayer – it’s tantalisingly unreachable for expats.
“But I see from my bank statement that the deduction was made using details from my old bank card. How is that even possible?” I exclaim.
“Unfortunately they can use your old card number but don’t worry,” Angela said, “ring Amazon and tell them that you have never used the Amazon Prime service and they will give you your money back. If there is a problem let me know. But before I go, shall I check to see if you paid a 79 pound subscription last year as well?”
Hey presto. There it was. A 79 pound deduction in April 2015 as well. How could have I been such an idiot.
“It’s okay, they should refund you both amounts if you explain the situation. I’ll give you the Amazon customer service phone number if you like, I have it right here.” (UK number only – not the one you use from overseas sadly).
So I hang up and I’m thinking, I bet I paid out that 79 pounds the year before as well, basically because I’m an idiot. And guess what? I did! So that’s 79 pounds in 2014, 2015 and 2016 (not 2013 thankfully). Head bangs down on desk. This Sunday morning is shaping up to be a corker.
It’s pretty hard to find the international complaints/contact phone number for Amazon. In fact, I’ve noticed that a lot of these online shops seem to hide their contact numbers very effectively, preferring an automated form to fill in and a ‘we’ll get back to you’ (for which you can read: on our own terms).
So I get hold of Raj who I presume is actually in India and he says “No refund.” So then I get a bit hot and bothered, because I’m hoping to get x3 refunds (for my own stupidity). I am also aware that my argument is weak but I say that the lady from my bank said that I could have my money back! So when he resists, I ask to speak to his supervisor (low blow – but necessary, since he wasn’t budging). In fact I decide that I’m definitely not hanging up until he has promised to give me money back and I don’t want to bother Angela again. So I’m whingeing and complaining and being stubborn and Raj puts me on hold, and then he comes back to me finally and says, after first saying that the most I can expect is one payment, that I can have all x3 payments of 79 pounds refunded to my account. I imagine that the conversation with his colleague started; “I’ve got this difficult cow on the line….” But 79 pounds is 79 pounds! And x3 79 pounds is a lot!
So I got my money back. Phew. And my UK bank account went back to black. But this is not the first time it has happened. I once got into a really complicated situation with Bluehost (website host) and was putting calls into Washington a while back. I could not believe that a rolling subscription could be so costly (particularly when I wasn’t actually using it because I was still on Blogger) and they were also deducting cash using old debit card details – which I since learned is perfectly legal and above board. I’ve had similar wrangles with the Inland revenue and customs regarding voluntary National Insurance contributions. And don’t get me started on my daughter’s online purchases she has asked me to do.
It’s fortunate that we don’t own a property back in UK. When we did, we managed to get into a situation where the tenant didn’t pay rent for 3 months before doing a runner and guess what? We hadn’t noticed! That is until probably our mortgage company or bank probably put in a call – (to be fair, we were living in Tanzania back then and it was the days before online banking). So the question remains, am I the only one who is THIS stupid?
Most Online Shoppers Send Something Back. – (BBC NEWS) pushing up the cost of online shopping