American Express Overzealous Security Makes Card Useless
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- Today I tried to charge a ticket on a major internet airline reservations site, using my AmEx card. The site refused my card on the 1st try, though I have used my AmEx card on the same site for at least 10 years, and neither my situation nor any of my information related to AmEx has changed recently on that site. I am also a 30 year customer of AmEx. My situation is unusual in that I live outside the U. S., but maintain a permanent residence and phone number in the U. S. This is where my AmEx card is registered.
After the site rejected my AmEx card, I received an email message to phone AmEx security, which I did. They informed me that a "security concern" had arisen, and that they'd have to verify I really was who I said I was by calling my permanent residence in the U. S. Of course, I will not be there, because I don't live there. However, this is my mother's residence, and she can take a message. This won't help me get the time-sensitive ticket I was trying to get today, but eventually I will receive AmEx's message and get back to them in some way specified in the message, and eventually this will free my card for the purchase ... which I don't need any longer.
I asked AmEx what the "security concern" was, and the representative replied that they could not tell me that until they verified who I was. A parallel example: it very much harks back to the McCarthy Era, when you asked the FBI "Why am I being accused of being a communist?" and the FBI replied, "We can't tell you that until you prove you are not a communist."
To verify who I was in my phone call to AmEx security today, they asked me my mother's maiden name, which I answered. So, this was enough for them to verify who I was in a direct call, and they asked for my account number over the line (how do I know THEY weren't at a bogus telephone number?), but it wasn't enough to verify who I was for a purchase, or to straighten out my "security concern".
I then asked why they had to call my permanent residence (where I am currently not), when they could simply ask the security questions they got answers to when I set up the AmEx account. The representative replied that "anyone could find out the answers to those questions". OK, anyone could maybe find out my mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of my SS number. But what about my first dog's name, my first girlfriend's name, or my favorite color? Why doesn't AmEx register meaningful security questions and answers to avoid all the BS about calling my residence?
The bottom line is that this is the third time I've had a similar problem in purchasing tickets over the internet with my AmEx card. Previous times, the problem was resolved with my calling AmEx, answering security questions, and verifying that it was in fact me trying to use the card. This appears to be no longer the way problems are resolved.
AmEx is supposed to be a "travel company", and I have kept this card because I travel a lot and live abroad. More and more, however, the AmEx card is becoming nothing but a problem. I can understand their concern about security, and I appreciate that they're trying to protect themselves and me from fraud. However, the tail (securiy department) seems to be wagging the dog (customer service) at AmEx, and they can't seem to find a means of ensuring security without making their card essentially useless. I mean, if you can't count on being able to use it, why have it?
Curiously, AmEx is putting on a good show about security, but some of their policies are full of holes. For example, when I set up my internet account with them, they specified that my password should contain the first 5 digits of my SS number. I don't know whether they still specify this, but how dumb is that? Nor have they ever insisted that I change my password on a regular basis, which is something my bank insists upon for online banking.
I am totally disgusted with AmEx, and probably will cancel my card after 30 years. It is ironic that they spend so much money advertising for new customers, and then manage to so royally piss off the ones they have. In dealing with them, I feel like a criminal rather than a customer.
My advice to anyone thinking of getting an AmEx card: forget it. You can do much better elsewhere. Or at least, I hope you can.