Sunday, October 9, 2011

Just when you thought you were protected…

The information shared in this story might come as a shock to you. It certainly took me by surprise and opened my eyes to the harsh reality of the dangers of giving out your credit card number.

We all know how risky it is to use our credit cards for internet purchases. For those of us who must do so, it is wise to use a card that has a very low limit. This way, if your card number is compromised at least the amount of damage done can be kept to a minimum. If everything works as it’s supposed to, once the purchases on your card go over the card’s limit, your credit card company should start refusing further charges.

What I didn’t know, and what you may not know, is how dangerous it is to give your credit card number to reputable firms that you may be doing business with in person. For example - companies selling goods such as doors and windows for your home.

Two years ago we purchased a sliding door to be installed in our kitchen to give access to our backyard deck, as well as an entry door system for the main entrance into our house. We chose a very well-known, reputable company and engaged ourselves to pay a great deal of money for the best quality doors that we could get. We had to pay 50% up front which we agreed to with the understanding that the doors were not held in stock and had to be manufactured. We agreed with that and were given a choice of how we wanted to pay. Since it was a large amount we decided to use a credit card and take advantage of the oodles of travel miles we would get as a result.

Bad idea.

The sliding door was the first of the two doors to be installed. The installation went well, the door was beautiful and everything was perfect. After the installation the company called me on the phone and asked if I authorized them to charge the remaining 50% of the sliding door to the same credit card I had used for the deposit. I made sure it was only the amount for the sliding door since the front entry door hadn’t yet been installed. They confirmed and I agreed.

A few weeks later the front entry door was installed and I wasn’t happy. The door and side light panels were not big enough to fit the hole that was created by removing the old door and side light panels. To compensate, the installer used wood to fill in around the top and sides, as well as between the door frame and the side light panels.

I was livid. I don’t want to say how much I paid, but I was convinced I was getting a custom fit door assembly for my entrance way for the amount of money we were spending. With all the measurements that the salesman took, he never bothered to mention that what he was selling us was standard size panels and that in order to make them fit everything would be jerry-rigged with wood. I expressed my dismay to the installer. He told me to take it up with the company.

In the installer’s defence, he did a nice job and the wood used was very nice quality wood, but it was unfinished wood and that wasn’t what we had bargained for. In fact, nowhere in our contract did it mention that there would be unfinished wood used to install the door and that it would be our problem to stain and varnish that wood.

So I waited for them to call, with the intention of refusing to let them charge the amount owed to my credit card. When they didn’t call I ended up calling them a couple of days later. I complained that I wasn’t satisfied and that the salesman had never made it clear that the amount of money we were spending was for a door that didn’t fit our entry-way. Honestly, if we would have been willing to accept a door that didn’t fit we could have easily gone to any home improvement store and bought a door that didn’t fit. What we expected for the money we were paying was a custom fit door and what we got were standard sized panels, enlarged using unfinished wood in order to fit the opening.

I was told that the salesman was no longer working for them. I wasn’t surprised since he was leaving out important details like “oh, by the way, we can only sell you standard sized doors and panels that are too small to fill in your entryway – is that OK?”. That was a really important detail to leave out. I hope they fired his sorry ass.

I asked to speak to the manager. He basically told me that they didn’t make custom fit doors and apologized that his salesman hadn’t made that clear to me. I told him that his apology wasn’t good enough and that there was no way I would be paying the balance owed on the door until this was settled.

They never called me to ask if they could charge the balance owed to my credit card. The manager never called me back to discuss what was being done to rectify the situation.

When I got my credit card bill a couple of weeks later I was floored to see that the remaining 50% for the front entry door had been charged to my card. I couldn’t believe it – I had never authorized that. So I called the credit card company to let them know that I was disputing the charge and I wanted it removed from my statement.

The first thing they asked me was if I had given my credit card number to the merchant. Of course I had. The next thing they said was that they couldn’t remove the charge and that I would have to take up my dispute directly with the merchant. I argued that I had never signed anything for that charge and that my cardholder agreement should protect me – they said that it didn’t, not under these circumstances.

Needless to say, taking it up with the merchant has been a frustrating and exhausting exercise in futility. Once they have your money they don’t care if you’re happy or not. You can slander their name all over the internet if you want, but they’re still laughing all the way to the bank with your hard-earned money.

So why am I telling you all this? It’s a warning. When you give out your credit card number – no matter how honest, reputable, well established and highly recommended the firm may be, you are handing over the big end of the stick.

And once you’ve given away the big end of the stick, you’re f*cked.

Note to self: Screw the travel miles - seriously. Always pay for large purchases with cheques. If I had done that I would still have 50% of the amount we spent on that lousy door sitting in my savings account and it would be me wielding the big end of the stick.