Digital World: ePassporte cancelled?

I couldn't use the card, because it was 'blocked.' But why? The pros and cons of the new debit card.

By DAVID SHAMAH
June 6, 2006 10:30
epass shamah 88 298

epass shamah 88 298. (photo credit: )

Dear Visa Cal, Mastercard Israel et al, I'm sorry. I was very mean to you and yours. I put you down in this space two weeks ago for not providing a virtual on-line credit card like ePassporte, and I strayed. And now I'm sorry. When I grilled your phone representatives on what I saw as a lack of convenience in using your on-line services or for the lack of a virtual card, I was treated like an intelligent human being, and even received return phone calls from higher-ups when the phone staff couldn't answer my questions. What can I tell you? I didn't know how good I had it with you from a customer service point of view. Not that you can blame me for going gaga over ePassporte (www.epassporte.com), the on-line service that provides you with a virtual Visa number for use in on-line transactions, especially when you buy from people that you don't completely trust. It certainly sounded like a good idea - and for the first couple of days, it worked like a charm. I ordered and downloaded a bunch of CDs from the Russian AllofMP3.com site (www.allofmp3.com) with payment accepted by the Russian site out of my ePassporte account. At last, Internet shopping the way it was meant to be! But then something went wrong - horribly wrong. Since I still had a decent balance in my ePassporte account, I tried buying more products and services - only to find my card rejected! I of course checked, double-checked and rechecked my ePassporte account, thinking that I somehow had mistyped the card number or the CVV2 (super secret credit card password) number. Nothing helped. After maybe the hundredth time of carefully checking over the My Account page on ePassporte, I finally realized what the problem was. My "card" (i.e., the virtual Visa number I had used for my purchases) was "blocked," which I assume meant I could not use it for some reason. Well, duh! Of course I couldn't use the card, because it was "blocked." But why? What does "blocked" mean in this context? Therein lies the whole sordid story. Although the bank that issues ePassportes - the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank in the Dutch West Indies - does issue "regular" credit cards, ePassportes are nothing of the sort; they're very limited debit cards that you pay for up front. Any "credit" you have on your ePassporte Visa is money you have deposited with them in your card account, which, according to their Web site and promotional materials, you should be free to spend any way you like. Anyway, it's not like it's their money - it's yours, and you pay a fee to avail yourself of their service ($5 per $100 deposited) to boot. And yet, I was being blocked from using the product/service for which I had paid. What possible reason could they have for not allowing me access to the product I bought in good faith? And did I mention that I had paid - up front - both the main amount and the fee to utilize ePassporte? Several lengthy phone calls to ePassporte customer service did nothing to answer this question. In fact, I got even more upset at them after each of the three conversations I had with their representatives, two of whom were "supervisors," the biggest fish in the food chain customers are allowed to speak with. The best I could get out of them was that they had decided to "investigate" my card. Why, no one could say, at least initially. This in itself raised a host of embarrassing questions, such as: Were they not going to inform me of this investigation? I had been trying to access the card for a solid week, with nary an e-mail from them on the matter. I noticed that after my second conversation with them, they did put a note on my account home page indicating that they were "temporarily suspending my account pending an investigation." Would they have posted that note if I hadn't nudged them into it - after a week of failing to do so? During my third conversation with them, I did get a sort of answer out of one of their supervisors; they were "investigating" the purchases I made on AllforMP3.com, because it's in Russia, "and we've gotten a lot of complaints about credit fraud from customers who use ePassportes at Russian sites." Oh yeah? But an ePassporte isn't a credit card - it's a very limited debit card, and the bank's risk is zero, because the money being used to make these allegedly spurious purchases is MY money! And as their user agreement makes clear, any loss incurred comes out of my pocket. And anyway, Russia is not - cannot - be the issue, as we shall see. After my first conversation with ePassporte, I was sent a form demanding documentation that would enable them to "unblock my card" and allow them to "reach a comfort level with me." I told them it sounded to me like that they had more of a problem with Israelis than Russians (although they denied this vociferously). If they're worried about Russian sites, then investigate them, not the Israeli customer who paid for the product! Besides, I would have thought that the fact that they got their fee and my funds up front, approved and paid for by my Visa Cal card, would be comfort enough. That seems to be enough for anyone in the world who accepts Visa for purchases, on and off-line. Not for ePassporte, though. So what would make ePassporte comfortable enough to unfreeze my account and allow me access to the product/service I already paid for? Not much, just - and I quote from their letter - 1) "A copy of a government issued photo ID," 2) "A copy of the front AND back of the credit/debit card used to load the ePassporte account" and 3) "A copy of the most recent statement of the credit/debit card used to load the ePassporte account, which clearly displays your address." Do you understand this? ePassporte is the one that has my money, and now they want hard copies of personal ID information! As they say in that kids magazine, Highlights, "What is wrong with this picture?" Bottom line is, I can either send them these very sensitive documents and get access to my money, or send them these very sensitive documents and cancel my account (for which they take a hefty fee.) Again, Israeli credit card folks, I'm sorry for putting you guys down. Any complaints or concerns I have had dealing with you have been dealt with promptly and, I have to say in retrospect, fairly. The only way I have chance of getting my money back from ePassporte is taking a plane to the Dutch West Indies - or maybe complaining to the California Consumer Affairs department. See, one of their managers slipped up and let a secret out of the bag. To resolve the issue of the documentation, he said, I would have to send an e-mail to their Account Verification department. Could I call them? "I'm afraid not, sir; see, they're several hours ahead of us, in California, and besides they don't accept calls from customers." Well, thanks for the info, buddy - we'll see how the State of California deals with companies that sell products and don't let customers have them. Note: I informed ePassporte throughout all my conversations with them that I had signed up to review their service for my readers, explaining the lack of virtual credit cards available to the Israeli public. I also informed them that I was extremely disappointed with their service and that, since I had initially mentioned them as an alternative, I had no choice but to tell readers of my disappointing experience, and that I really, really wanted to speak to someone (other than the "supervisors") about the issues discussed here to get their side of the story. I'm still waiting to hear from them. Ds@newzgeek.com


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