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"Your card is declined, sir." The words rang through my ears. I was dumbstruck. Jovially I asked that the card be run again. Same result. I could see it in her eyes, feel it from the faces of the people around me. Surprise was replaced by shock, which was soon replaced by anger. I check my wallet and retrieve my American Express. "We don’t accept American Express." I check the slot for bills. No cash either. Well fuck. Futilely I insist that the card is good. Her look does not change. She has seen it all before. My ears ring with the whispers of those around me. My embarrassment flourishes as I perceive their thoughts. Shamefully I return the food as I awkwardly explain that I have no other ways to pay. Instinctively I reach for my cell phone and punch in the number for US Bank customer service.

TL;DR Summary (for those with either limited time or concentration)
US Bank suspended my debit card and failed to contact me about it. This resulted in me being unable to pay for lunch while out with my work colleagues, looking like an NSF schmuck, and having to walk away hungry. It then took more than thirty minutes with an unhelpful customer service rep who failed to correctly verify my personal information before unlocking my account again, who also failed to provide any good explanation as to why the hold was placed in the first place or why I had not been contacted about it.

Meaghan and I visited Seattle this weekend. During the twenty minutes I was on hold, I had more than enough time to connect the dots and figure out what had happened. I know I have sufficient funds, I know my card hasn’t been physically stolen. The damn fraud protection nannies had come out to “help” me by disabling my card for suspicious activity.

By now I had returned to the office, hungry, embarrassed, and livid. I pulled up the usbank.com website and started looking for any indication my account was out of order. The balances looked just as I had seen them only hours before, and the status on my debit card was listed as “active”.

I finally got through to customer service.

Failure #1
Last year my identity was compromised and leaked by HealthNet. As a result, I have a password on my account with strict instructions to ask for it upon any interaction. I was not asked for my password by the customer service rep, only for a few pieces of personal information.

Failure #2
After confirming that there was indeed a problem with my account, the service rep transferred me to cardholder services. I was asked for personal information but again not asked about my password.

Failure #3
I explained that my card had just been declined while attempting to buy lunch. I was humiliated and upset. Instead of any kind of apology I was interrogated by the card services rep who treated me more like a thief of my own account than an upset customer.

Failure #4
The reason they had frozen my card was because I purchased bus passes at a TriMet ticket station the day before. I ride the bus to work. I buy bus passes at TriMet ticket stations about once a month. It was then explained that it was also because I bought food in Seattle the day before that. My snarky comment about having bought rail tickets to Seattle earlier in the week did little to soothe communications, which at this point were heading for a full-on breakdown.

Failure #5
I ask why there were zero attempts to contact me about this suspected fraud. Whenever US Bank wants to upsell services, offer to finance a mortgage, or engage me in a customer survey they have no problem contacting me 24/7 via email, SMS text, or over the phone. So why is it that when they suspect fraud on my account they stay completely silent. The customer service rep indicated that I was due for a call but that because the “fraud” happened on a Sunday it was outside of their business hours. I pointed out that it was currently Monday afternoon, and asked if that was within business hours or if perhaps they only made fraud calls on the third Thursday of lent in each leap year. Communications continued their downward slope.

Failure #6
Finally, after being assured that the hold would be lifted at some point soon, I asked why my card had shown as active online and how I would have had any clue that my card was suspended. I was simply told that I would only know when it was declined. I explained that such a situation was not acceptable to me and that I needed a better option. I was told that no such option existed and that this could happen any time I make purchases outside of my normal pattern. Bloody useless!

So there you go. Successive failures and an all around horrible customer service experience. Meaghan and I visited our bank branch this evening and talked to the manager there for about forty-five minutes. He listened as we explained everything that had happened, apologized for my unpleasant experience, and promised to research the situation and get back to me. I indicated that my biggest concern was about this happening again in the future and making sure that we were contacted immediately if our cards were suspended or fraudulent activity was suspected. My biggest problem with the whole day wasn’t the embarrassment at the food court, or even the snarky and shitty customer service representative. What bothered me most was not being asked for my password by either rep, and knowing that this could happen again at any time and I wouldn’t know until my card was declined.

What would you do if your card was declined while you were stuck at an airport trying to get on another flight, or taking your boss out to dinner, or perhaps simply getting money for a taxi on the way home from a night out? Thirty minutes on hold, only within business hours, doesn’t really cut it for most situations. I get that fraud protection is important, but if the bank can find the time to call me for sales calls, surveys, and service upselling, then surely they can take a minute to call and inform me that my card has been deactivated.


  • Jessica

    Wow… twice now I’ve had a fraud alert on my card after buying Trimet passes. And this second time I was also not contacted, though the rep at the call center said they had tried to. Can’t say I’ve ever had a problem paying for groceries with my debit card… Until yesterday. I will buy my passes with a cc or at the customer service desk of a grocery store from now on. Sorry about your experience.

    • Sorry to hear you had a bad experience also. It sucks that they will flag your card without contacting. Very embarrassing to have your card declined for a simple purchase when you know you have the funds.

  • Nick Ripley

    Whether or not the bank made an error, you sound like an entitled, paranoid child. Grow up!

  • It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. 🙂

    However, I do find I have a much better customer experience if institutions try to make amends rather than blaming you for their mistakes. This isn’t the first time US Bank have done this too us either. Hopefully the last though. Feels like a solvable problem.

  • Barb

    Very interesting.

    By contrast, my husband and I (we’re from Colorado) and were traveling in California. We made a $23.51 purchase at a store on our debit card and it went through for $2,351.00. It kicked in an overdraft protection on our credit card, and we didn’t know about it until we checked online banking a couple of days later. The merchant corrected the problem with a refund, and we returned the funds to our credit card. US Bank returned the OD fees. We are VERY old customers of US Bank and their predecessors. Maybe that has something to do with it.

  • I have my manufactured home mortgage thru USBank. They are HORRIBLE. rUDE, THEY ROUTINELY LIE TO ME, transfer me all over the place, I seldom get the same answer from any one. there are no customer complaints that are taken about rude, nasty customer service. I absolutely do not ever recommend US Bank to anyone for any reason. I have been a good customer, but had a major cancer surgery and asked if I could spread ONE mortgage payment out over the following four mortgage payments. I did not ask for any freebies. They gave me all kinds of grief for 3 months, even though I was making my payments. RUDE, RUDE AND HORRIBLE PEOPLE AND BANK. THE CEO AND OTHER PEOPLE IN CHARGE OF THIS BANK SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES, BECAUSE THIS DEGREE OF POOR CUSTOMER SERVICE ONLY COMES FROM THE TOP. HORRIBLE HORRIBLE BANK

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