09 August 2007

Much Ado About Something

As a sequel to my last post, I am writing about another recent mistake which I believe was not due to my fault, unlike the last one.

Do you check your credit card statements meticulously? If unlike me, you don't, then be forewarned - you might just be paying more than what you should. And I am not talking about the exorbitant interest charges imposed on rolled-over balances here.

You see, on 25 May 2007, I was at the World Book Fair at Suntec City. Our Reader's Digest subscription happened to be expiring soon. I thought it was a good opportunity to renew a 2-year subscription at the book fair since they were offering it at a special price of $180 with a free radio and some costume jewellery thrown in as free gifts. This I did.

In June 2007, I was billed for the purchase. Nothing unusual here but I noticed that the company which billed me was called "Mobile Credit Payme(nt?)". I checked the receipt (see photo above) and indeed, there was a line "Powered by WWW.MCPAYMENT.COM" printed at the bottom of the receipt.

However, when July 2007's credit card bill arrived, there was another charge of $180.00 by "READER'S DIGEST ASI(A?)". At first, I thought I have not settled that charge the previous month. But a check on the previous month's statement confirmed otherwise.

On 25 July 2007, I sent an email to Reader's Digest highlighting the double charge. I also attached a copy of the receipt issued to me which I didn't throw away (fortunately). The email reply from Reader's Digest the next day was indeed hard for this reader to digest:

"Please be informed that we have checked our records and payment history to the credit card number you provided (xxxx xxxx xxxx 5048) and can confirm that there has only been 1 charge for $180 which justifies the charge which reflects in your statement as “Reader's Digest Asi Singapore SG”.

The charge was officially made on the 19th of June 2007 and had a slight delay in being included in your statement. The receipt you sent us indicates that payment was made directly through Readers Digest and not via an agent. As mentioned earlier, we can confirm this charge was made to us and your account has been updated with the renewed subscription.

The 1st charge you mentioned was made to “Mobile Credit Payment Singapore”. We regret to inform you that we have no record of this payment nor are we familiar with the description.

You may check with your bank on that particular charge to identify the source as it was not made by Readers Digest."

Infuriated by Reader's Digest's response, I immediately sent another email to them, attaching copies of the 2 credit card statments. In it, I said inter-alia:

"I would like to reiterate that the first payment on 25 May 2007 was made by me personally at the Reader's Digest booth at the World Book Fair at Suntec City... Are you implying that this booth at the World Book Fair was not authorised to represent Reader's Digest? If so, why then did the receipt have "Reader's Digest" printed on it? In any case, a lay customer like me cannot tell whether I am dealing with an agent or directly with Reader's Digest. Neither does that trivial fact matter to me as a customer one bit. This looks to me like a foul-up happening completely within your good company. If that is the case, it is in your best interest to put the situation right soonest. I cannot be expected to chase my credit card issuer about a problem which I didn't create in the first place and which I know that the credit card issuer is not responsible for.

I would also like to know who authorised the 2nd charge on 19 Jun 2007? I did not authorise it.

Finally, I would like to state that I expect no less than a satisfactory resolution to this issue. If I was unfairly inconvenienced due to some oversight on someone's part, I think that a sincere apology should be in order. However, in the event that it is established that I am indeed a victim of fraud, I will not hesitate to seek redress by writing to the press, blogging about the bad experience, complaining to CASE or even filing a police report. This is so that other people will not become similar victims like me.

Of course, I would also stop subscribing to Reader's Digest altogether just so that I will never have such a similar bad experience again."

The reply that came back on 27 Jul 2007 was as follows:

"Please be informed that we have forwarded the attachments you sent us to the relevant department and are currently checking to see if there was any trace of the charge.

However, the charge for $180 to Readers Digest should be the correct charge made to you for the payment you made at the book fair of which you were issued the receipt. This payment has [sic] reflected in our records.

We will check and revert back to you immediately upon resolving the issue.

Thank you and we apologize for any inconvenience caused."

So far, I have not heard from Reader's Digest again. Hence, I decided to dispute the 2nd charge with my bank. Meanwhile, the bank has temporarily credited the disputed amount back into my account, pending investigation. However, the bank was quick to add (in a way I found threatening) that should the transaction be found to be indeed authorised by me, I would be charged for the amount transacted plus $15.00 retrieval fee for each disputed transaction. Phew.

So here are some pointers for my readers to digest:

1. Keep all purchase receipts for some time in a safe place for counter-checking against your credit card statements. A double charge like the one I experienced could very easily slip by unnoticed, so check your statements carefully as soon as you receive them.

2. In my case, do you think it was a mistake of the bank or the merchant? Two weeks after I raised the issue, I am still not any wiser as to whose mistake it was.

Hmm... I don't know why they picked me but somehow I am never so lucky in their "$175,000 lucky sweepstakes draw". It remains to be seen whether Reader's Digest will terminate my subscription with them. If so, it is just as well - I can always find some other magazine to read.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your unpleasant experience. It is through sharing that we are made aware of such enethical practices of some merchants and take appropriate action.I would also like to encourage visitors to your site to share their bad exprience, if any.

JollyGreenP said...

I stopped dealing with Readers Digest years ago because of their dubious marketing methods and always bin their draw letters. I also avoid book clubs after finding books I did not want had been delivered because I had been away on holiday when the newsletter came and did not send back notification that I did not want the book of the month. I pointed out that as I had not said that I wanted the book that it was being treated as unsoliceted goods and they could collect from my address at a time that would be convenient to me and that I was cancelling my membership forthwith. The reply indicated that I could keep the book for free and would I please consider keeping my membership on. My reply was a resounding "NO" and I no longer consider joining book clubs despite any tempting offers they may have.

Victor said...

Stanley - What I find hard to accept is that they are taking their own sweet time about the whole matter. No explanation about what went wrong or apologies from anyone either.

Jollygreenp - Reader's Digest has been around since 1922. I can't help but notice that the magazine has been getting thinner and thinner through the years though. It used to be almost twice as thick when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

This is VERY COMMON in the US. :(
And I hate it when I have to act the "middleman" between the bank and the merchant. I don't think this happens often in S'pore.

Victor said...

Tigerfish - You are right. In some 3 decades of owning a credit card, this is the first time that I have experienced something like this here. It's difficult to imagine that this kind of mistake can still happen with all the advanced automation and computerisation that we have now. I think it's because it doesn't happen often that most of us let our guard down.

Anonymous said...

I recommend the National Geographic as alternative reading material.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a terrible experience and a reminder that I better check my credit card bills more closely. I have stopped subscribing to any magazines for a long time already, including my beloved Businessweek (I used to be obsessed about reading about business strategies, management theories, and global economics). Believe that my mum still subscribes to Reader's Digest but not sure if it has resorted to such tactics before.

Lam Chun See said...

I think this is a very valuable experience to share with us. I think there are many people who do not check their CC bills.

As for Readers Digest, like John, I too have stopped subcribing to them. I enjoy the magazine, but find the lucky draws a real nuisance. A bit like the tv series, Lost.

Lam Chun See said...

BTW, does anyone have experience with charity orgs which send you their products when you did not order them. I used to send them a cheque and then find that I don't have any use for their greeting cards. Now, I even receive key chains and stickers all the way from Hong Kong.

Victor said...

Meow - I have the impression that National Geographic is more about nature, animals and photography, quite unlike Reader's Digest which is more a general interest magazine.

Walter - I don't know why but such little misfortunes seem to always fall on me. It keeps me busy blogging about them, heh. I have another one of a different nature coming up so watch for it.

Chun See - No harm being more careful about who you donate your money to. There are just too many bogus charities run by people whose motives are questionable these days.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed, NG is a different sort of reading but no less interesting and very worth the subscription sum.

LCS - i have had such experiences before and like you, was guilted into sending them a cheque. Keeping the goods and not paying felt kinda like theft but OTOH, i really did not need the things sent to me. Subsequently i sent them a note asking that they discontinue sending the cards etc to me and they stopped. You can try this.

My present practice is to support only a few charities and my donations is always sent directly to them. There are a lot of "charity agents" around nowadays & i have read that in some cases, the charity itself only gets as little as 30% of the monies collected - that is not how i want my money to be utilized.

Anonymous said...

hmmm I talked about this issue with the other Victor and he mentioned that he subscribed to Reader Digest before too but also had trouble withdrewing his subscription. They did not really cancel his subscription and keep mailing him - I don't really know the exact details.

But what I will do if I'm in your case is, I will write another email to Reader Digest and if they don't reply within the time limit for you to payment your bill, you should bring this to CASE. I will also find my MP. LOL

But actually this is common everywhere lah, GD. Sad to find such organizations around.

Lam Chun See said...

I don't think it's a case of this sort of things happening only to Victor. It's just that our friend is very observant. Probably happened to some of us but we didn't even notice it!

Victor said...

Etel - I've already written to RD twice. On 27 Jul 2007, they said that they would revert to me. But it's been more than half a month already and I've yet to hear from them. I won't be writing again unless I failed to receive the next month's copy of RD.

Chun See - Thanks for the compliment. I am always very careful especially when it hurts my pocket.

Anonymous said...

but then how about the bill now? @_@ no need to settle? but will incur interest no? Bring it up to CASE if they really never reply you anymore.

Victor said...

Etel - As far as I'm concerned, I've already paid RD once and the bill is therefore considered as settled. The bank has also said that the charges for the 2nd disputed bill has been reversed, pending further investigations. So there's nothing left for me to do.

If RD is chow kuan (~ being unreasonable), then it may stop my subscription. If that happens, then I will raise a dispute again because I've already paid them and I have proof that I did so. It would be considered as "non-delivery of goods after payment" (a milder term for "cheating").

Honestly, I don't think I owe anything to anyone. Quite the contrary, I think someone still owes me an apology.

Patricea Chow-Capodieci said...

When I was a kid (that's about 20 years ago), I remember loads of Readers' Digest at home, thanks to my father. He never believed me whenever my mother or myself told him that the 'sweepstakes' were scams, or just a dangling carrot to keep subscribers subscribing.

Also, as mentioned by jollygreenp, the kept sending us books from the book club even when we did not request for them!

Best part: after my father passed away, my mom sent them a copy of the death certificate in an attempt to cancel the subscription, which had kept coming despite my father defaulting on the subscription for about a year or two. The issues kept coming for a few more months before they stopped finally. There probably is some problem with the administration of RD Asia/Spore.

Other questions to ask: Why was payment approved the second time if you did not approve it? Does the bank not seek confirmation before approving payment? How can credit card transactions be made safe, especially by banks for their customers? Why is the bank so protective of the merchant instead of their customer?

In other words, if the bank you are dealing with is DBS, I can understand the terrible service standards. In all my time dealing with them, they need to be prodded and reminded. I find that writing a letter to the local press and getting it published tends to push them in to action better than anything else.

dilutedmagnetics said...

I stopped subscribing to reader's digest a long time ago. Every year, they would send rubbish sweepstake letters to me with fake cheques inside. If they were trying to sell magazines, why do it like that? Too sleazy.

Victor said...

Patricea - Thanks for your comments. Wow, you have 5 blogs! I can't imagine how I can manage that many.

The bank is not DBS. Well, if you know who issues Manhattan cards, then you'll know which bank it is.

Well, Reader's Digest has just sent me a $180.00 cheque (and it's from DBS). There was no accompanying letter or explanation, just a cheque in an envelope. Sigh, I just can't understand what Reader's Digest is doing. I think they are admitting it's their mistake. But why no apology or explanation?

Victor said...

LIS - I visited your blog Just Eat Lah. Your latest post about the ways in which different nationalities in Singapore speak English is very interesting. I wanted to leave a comment but too bad, it looks like you've disallowed readers to leave comments.

Patricea Chow-Capodieci said...

"But why no apology or explanation?"

I notice that corporations are quick to find fault, but slow to apologise for an error. Is this the way to treat their clients, the very ones who are keeping the company afloat?

Somehow, the clients are also responsible for this 'ah-tas' attitude because a lot of people prefer to 'just take it' instead of making it known that the corporation is not doing something right.

Yes, I have five blogs because I have a lot of things to write about but do not want to lump them in to one blog. Too messy.

Btw, I do not live in Sinapore. You can probably find me back for a couple of weeks during CNY each year, but other times, I call Bali my home now. :)

Victor said...

Patricea - I wrote an email to RD over the weekend. Hopefully, they will break their silence over this matter.

Wah Bali. I haven't been there but would like to go there some time in future. Provided I could convince my wife that it is a safe place to visit, that is. Otherwise, I might just go without her, haha.

Unknown said...

Hmmm they sent you a cheque, and the bank reverse it, you 'tan tio' liao? Can go buy one tix for King and I. LOL...

or now you have to pay back the amount to SCB and pay the $15 charge too? Then you rugi..

Victor said...

Keropok Man - No lah, where got 'tan tio'? Ahem... I am not so crooked. Will be returning the cheque if it's confirmed that the bank reversed the charge.

gusstaf said...

ah... that's something to be careful with credit card bills...

yet to sign up one yet... maybe this could be yet another deterrence for me not to sign up...

Victor said...

Thanks Gusstaf for leaving a comment. A credit card is convenient but you must use it carefully and responsibly. And don't forget to check your bills.

shannon said...

my experience with chargebacks has been good. there has been two or three times where i've had someone make unauthorised credit card transactions on my card and i've had to dispute them, once it was a double charge such as this, and i won every time. you are in the right here so i think that the investigation will definitely end in your favor.

Victor said...

Shannon - Thanks for your comments. You are right, the bank had already reversed charges. Later, Reader's Digest also sent me a cheque for the amount overcharged. As I didn't feel good about taking money which did not belong to me, I returned the cheque.