We had signed up for a Capital One MasterCard before leaving the States because they're one of the only banks left that won't hit you with a 3-4% foreign currency conversion charge. The only problem was that the credit limit was a mere $1000. Now, we're not throwing our money around on this trip, but we were expecting it to cost more than $33 / day. Additionally, it would be good to have some spending power on hand in case of emergency — there can be delays and problems when transferring money, and we wanted to have a cushion. But the limit was non-negotiable.
However, three different agents (Enrollment, Activation, and Customer Service) all assured me that I could prepay to have a higher effective limit — using our credit card like a debit card. I was told to mail them a check. Hil and I had done this before on our Citibank cards without incident, so we thought it was pretty ordinary.
Turns out that's not the case. We discovered — at dinnertime on New Years Eve in Costa Rica — that our card wasn't working anymore. I spent much of that night (and a good portion of the next two days) standing at an outdoor payphone in the sweltering Costa Rican heat. At least Capital One accepts collect calls.
Bottom line: they admitted that the account notes indicated that I was just following the instructions of their own representatives, but they nonetheless blamed me for doing so. They said that it was impossible to remove the hold. So we posted a big rant here, and a bunch of the Internet picked up on the story.
I don't know if it was due to the efforts of friends and family or the publicity on the front pages of Consumerist and Reddit, but by the end of the day I had received an email from a Capital One executive: The hold was off!
I also found out what scam Capital One was defending itself from. Here's how it works:
In light of the above exposure, Capital One's placement of a hold on my account makes sense. If my check turned out to be bad, they didn't want to be on the hook for $7000, since they were only ready to trust me with $1000. I guess the fact that we'd already fled to Central America didn't really help our credibility.
Nonetheless, I think Capital One's customer service department should make a few changes. If a customer calls up and asks how to send in an overpayment check, the rep should warn them of the consequences. Heck, when such a check arrives, they could call the customer and tell them a hold will be placed. They could even offer to rip up the check.
Anyway, I'm just glad it's all over.
Hilary and I want to extend our deepest gratitude to the following people:
Some final tips for anyone who might be planning a similar trip:
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