Who’s scamming me — the Bologna police or Hertz?

When Walter Heleen returned from Italy last May, he thought he’d paid all of his bills. But there was just one more thing to settle up. OK, maybe two.
Read more “Who’s scamming me — the Bologna police or Hertz?”

DC dance protest ends with arrests, cries of “This is a police state!”

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington is a popular tourist destination, but on this Memorial Day weekend, it was also the scene of a memorable protest that’s worth paying attention to.

A court recently ruled that expressive dancing was in a category with picketing, speech making, and marching – a banned activity at national memorials.

Several protesters decided to challenge the decision on Saturday afternoon with a protest organized through social media (here’s the Facebook page, the Twitter hashtag and blog.)
Read more “DC dance protest ends with arrests, cries of “This is a police state!””

Can this trip be saved? My airline tickets were canceled against my will

As far as most airlines are concerned, if you cancel your tickets, your options are pretty simple: You have a year to use them. Or you can let the credit expire, and they keep your money.

But life isn’t always that simple.

Lauren Tse and her two daughters were looking forward to flying to South Florida to see her mother last Christmas. But when they checked in for their flight, they discovered their tickets — which were gifts from Lauren’s mother — had been canceled.

Their airline, US Airways, offered a ticket credit — minus the $150 change fee and fare difference. But they had to pay another $4,000 to fly to Florida for the holidays.
Read more “Can this trip be saved? My airline tickets were canceled against my will”

“They laughed at me and told me to move to the end of the counter”

Rob Gerlach’s bus was late. Really late.

He was traveling from Toronto to Rochester, NY, with a stopover in Buffalo on Greyhound, and not only did the motorcoach leave after its scheduled departure time, but the driver also got lost — he took the wrong highway exit. (Maybe there’s a job waiting for him at Northwest Airlines.) Gerlach missed his connection in Rochester, forcing him to wait another four hours for the next bus to Rochester.

And that’s when the trouble started.
Read more ““They laughed at me and told me to move to the end of the counter””

Roman thieves impersonating cops confiscate student’s debit card and steal €250 — now what?

Never give your PIN number to anyone. Ever.

Derek Wilairat learned this rule the hard way on a recent trip to Rome. I’m sharing his heartbreaking story as a warning to readers. But I think you’ll find the resolution just as interesting.

On June 14th, 2008, on a deserted street in Rome, two men approached me claiming to be undercover police officers. They demanded my wallet to “check my identification” and they demanded the PIN for my debit card so that they could “check my identity” with my bank.

Despite my obvious suspicions, my instinct was to play along. They were threatening men — mafia-types — and the fact that they claimed to be police officers, and that I was in a foreign country, made it that much harder to resist their demands. I surrendered my PIN only because I felt that to not do so would be putting myself in danger.

They handed back my wallet, minus my debit card. I called WaMu right away to cancel the card, but by then the thieves had already withdrawn €250 from an ATM. Later that day, I filed a claim for an unauthorized withdrawal, explaining the whole story in detail to a sympathetic customer service agent.

Soon after, I received a letter from Alex Wilson of WaMu Debit Card Claims that said that my claim was denied because I “gave the person who made the transaction permission to use the debit card and PIN.” I called the claims department again and spoke to another sympathetic agent who said she would reopen my claim.

Later, when I hadn’t heard back, I called claims again, and was informed my claim had been denied a second time.

Then, following the advice of the manager of my local WaMu branch, I wrote a letter to WaMu Executive Offices. The case was considered, and denied a third time.

I wrote back, arguing that according to the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, I should not be held liable for more than $50 of unauthorized use, since I reported my Debit Card stolen within two business days after I realized the card was missing. I received a reply which denied my claim for the fourth time, stating that “the DCS (Debit Card Services) department deemed your transaction as authorized because you gave your PIN to a third party. Therefore the $50 limit does not apply.” This last letter was dated December 19, 2008.

To be confronted by two men claiming to be police officers on a deserted street in a foreign country is clearly a threatening situation. I did not give my PIN willingly; I was coerced into doing so. Also, the actual card, used along with the PIN for the withdrawal, was just flat-out stolen.

I contacted Chase, which now owns Washington Mutual. Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the bank, responded with a terse denial.

We checked out the debit card issue raised by your reader. Because the customer did not file a police report, we will not reimburse the loss.

How interesting.

I think if the customer service agent Wilairat had spoken with the morning after the incident had asked him to file a police report, he probably would have. Although I can certainly understand why filing a report with the authorities wasn’t the first thought that came to his mind. After all, the thieves had claimed to be police officers.

What’s frustrating is that Washington Mutual (and later Chase) gave him numerous reasons why it denied his claim. If they’re going to deny his claim, is it too much to ask them to stick to the script?

Needless to say, you should never, never, ever give anyone your PIN number.

Wilairat must now decide what to do next. He has two options as far as I can tell: accept the decision or go to small claims court to recover his money.

Update (2/11): Just got an update from Wilairat …

I received a letter from Washington Mutual. They argue that the incident is not governed by the EFTA, and they continue to deny the claim, but even so, they are refunding the full amount of the disputed withdrawal in the interest of customer service.