June 17, 2002

The wonders of ATM cards

Shortly before our trip to Point Reyes, I noticed that my ATM card, which I had had for something like six years, was starting to fall apart. It had had little cracks in it for sometime, but those cracks were now threating to rip all the way through. Every time I put the card into an ATM machine, I wondered if it would be able to get back out again. Finally, I called our bank, AEA Credit Union, and asked for a replacement card.

We got to Point Reyes, low on cash, and discovered that my ATM card didn't work anymore. Fortunately, most places take plastic, and we had enough cash to get us through, so we got home without any problem, where we discovered my replacement ATM card. Ah, I thought, they must have turned off my old ATM card when they mailed this one. Well, everything is fine now.

Monday, while I'm in the office, Meredith called me. "My ATM card isn't working." Then she noticed that her ATM card had expired. Well, it expired in January, and was working just a week before, but, it seems, they decided that June was as good a time as any to shut down all those January cards. Odd, we thought, that we didn't get a replacement card. Well, no worries, I'll get some cash for both of us with my shiny new card.

Only my card doesn't work. "Your secret code is incorrect." When I ordered the ATM card, they asked if I wanted to keep the same code. I said yes. Well, so much for that plan. At least the machine gave me my card back.

The next day, Meredith drives to the nearest (i.e., only) local branch of the credit union, in Sunnyvale, where she reprograms the PIN code on my ATM card to the one we both know, and orders a new one for her. All is right with the world.

Last Friday, we received in the mail two envelopes from our bank. Two? Both of them had ATM/Visa Check Cards in them. Now, we had specifically requested that we NOT get Visa Check Cards. Check Cards are like credit cards in many ways. They are accepted as credit cards. You do not need a PIN code to use them, like credit cards. But unlike credit cards, the financial burden in the event of theft is all on you, the customer. With a credit card, if someone places unauthorized transactions on the card, you have the legal right to have the charges frozen while the credit card company investigates your dispute. While they're looking, you don't have to pay. With a check card, though, you've already paid. The money is gone, and will stay gone until your bank gets around to determining that maybe you didn't really make the charge after all. One might imagine that their incentive to do a speedy investigation might be a bit less than the incentive for the credit card company. Further, the legal liability you face in the event of theft is greater for debit cards than for check cards. (For more on the problems with check cards, click here.)

So: we didn't want the check cards. They are evil, and we didn't ask for them. So today, I spent twenty minutes on the phone (half of it on hold waiting for a human being) with AEA Credit Union, explaining this. "But don't you want the check cards?" No. "Well, it looks like one ATM card was recently ordered." Yes, mine. This was all very complex, it seems, but at the end of it, they agreed to cancel the check cards and mail Meredith a new ATM card "within seven to ten business days."

All's well that ends well, right?

Well, then I came home, got the mail — and found a new ATM card.

So much for ending...

Posted by Mike at June 17, 2002 06:43 PM