The continuing crisis…

Against all expectations Paypal did restore the access to my account on Saturday, but for some stupid reason they are still pursuing disputes on my behalf that I never filed or asked to be filed. So now I’m receiving some emails with the title “We’ve decided in your favor”, but these seem to be for items that are already on their way to me (and Paypal is aware of this). And this is after me writing to them on several occasions to clear up the fact that these are things I willingly purchased. I know this because they sent some largely incoherent responses to my previous communications yesterday.

At this point I can only shake my head a little. The whole thing has gone from being silly and aggravating to suddenly making no fucking sense at all.

Here’s what Paypal had to say about the whole thing:

“Due to data protection reasons we are unable to give you the specific reason as to why a payment has been investigated.”

“I am sorry to tell you that the transaction you mentioned had been reversed for risk concern. If you still want the item, you can resend payment to this seller.”

Seriously, why anyone would trust their money to Paypal is beyond me.

The continuing Paypal saga

Every step in dealing with Paypal just leads to further steps. And at no point is there any indication that progress is being made, or even that the person handling the case now is even aware of the steps that have already been completed. It’s like Astérix Chez Les Romains, you know, that sequence where Asterix has to fetch a form (“le laisser-passer A38!”) and is sent on a wild goose chase through a building known as “the building that makes people mad”. Asterix of course completes this task by driving the people who work in the building mad themselves, but I seriously doubt that this is a realistic option for me (regardless I’ll give it a go).

This is bloody ridiculous. At first they wanted a proof of address, and I provided one. Not good enough. Today I actually talk to a human being (whom, it turns out, is about as useless as the rest of the resolution process, sorry to say). He wants me to upload a photo ID. I do so. I hear nothing for a while.

And now Paypal is telling me that my computer may have a virus and they want to see proof of an antivirus scan being run. Never mind that I have MSE scan every night. And frankly this is starting to sound funnily like those scams where someone calls you up from India claiming to work for “Windows” and telling you that your computer is “broadcasting error messages”. This does not fill me with confidence coming from a company that already has my credit card information. So I’m running a full scan with MBAM (Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, the top offering out there AFAIK). And yet I would gladly bet a sizeable amount that Paypal will simply then change their tune again (as they have at every step so far) and demand yet something else.

It’s in-fucking-sane. Oh, and also now I must change my password and security questions. As I have been requested to do (and have done) two days ago and again yesterday. They claim that someone has had unauthorized access to my account but all purchases charged have very much been made by myself. They have essentially invented a problem where before there was none. I really cannot fathom why they persist in this.

I’m sure there will be more to this story…

Paypal lies to its merchants!

So, my Paypal account is still suspended. They wanted a proof of address, I sent them one, then the next day that didn’t work for some reason and now they wanted a photo ID, which was promptly sent. Since then, nothing. So I went to hit a few golf balls, come back, check out the resolution center and Paypal has now taken the liberty of telling people I purchased items from on Tuesday that the charge was unauthorized, like someone had stolen my account credentials.

Paypal is lying. Paypal is not telling the truth. Paypal is dishonest.

I have to agree to cancel those two transactions. But when I do I explain to the seller what’s happened, I tell them that Paypal is lying to them, but that since (in the case of at least one merchant) they offer no alternative way to pay, then I must agree to cancel because I have no idea when those idiots are gonna be done creating the completely unjustified mess they’ve made, let alone clean it up.

Still, what the fuck? Did an ex of mine get hired by Paypal or something?

A note to everyone at Paypal

Dante described the very worst of the bottom rung of hell as “All of the sinners punished within are completely encapsulated in ice, distorted in all conceivable positions”. Yet in my view that is still not as bad as trying to deal with an issue with my Paypal account. Now I have to write the people from whom I have attempted to purchase things today and explain to them what’s happening, and it won’t be kind to paypal. Seriously, how much easier does commerce get? I’m a customer who wants to buy a product which is legal, and there’s a seller who wants to sell it to me. Somehow you managed to utterly bugger it up now. The words “piss-up” and “brewery” spring immediately to mind.

So apologies to the following: Nicole Leibman, Discount Golf, irina cristobal, Rare Posters Dba Art Wise and AwesomeTreats. Paypal has decided to hijack the money in mid-payment. That’s what you get for making the mistake of trusting them.

Royal Bank: the wrong choice for business

I own a business that handles a couple of fairly lucrative contracts a year. My banking needs set the bar fairly low for what I expect from a bank — mostly it’s taking in payments, paying a couple of bills every month, and filing payment for the taxes I owe. This should be pretty straightforward and shouldn’t cost much… unless you bank at RBC.

Their ad for the $6 business checking account is all over the radio these days (so much so that even I heard it, and I don’t listen to the radio). On the onset, that seems remarkably cheap, but it is actually a ripoff. Because to achieve that low figure RBC has cut a lot of features that the “banking advisors” don’t seem too keen to tell you about until you’re signed up and on the hook. Crucially, the big feature that’s been cut is government remittances, which frankly is the killer app for a business banking account.

Yes, you have to pay the Royal Bank a signup fee to be able to pay your taxes online. And frankly you’ll have to pay out the ass for any means to settle an account that you can’t pay in cash, really, because if you don’t pay your taxes online you’ll have to buy cheques (starting at $65 for an order, another Madoff-scale ripoff as far as I’m concerned) or have a money order made, which will cost you $6 or so.

The fee just to sign up to be able to pay your taxes through the RBC web site is $25 a year. Now you’ll think, this is not so bad, if you divide this into 12 that’s just over $2/month… but you’re not done paying yet. At RBC you’re never done paying endless fees for every little thing. For each tax bill that you want to pay you will have to shell out another $2. So if your business has to file sales tax payments every month that’s almost $50 a year for sales tax payments alone, let alone your federal and (if applicable) provincial income tax filings. And if you have a really successful business you’ll also have to make installment payments, either every 3 months or every month. And each time, it’s $2 practically stolen from your business. Kaching, kaching, kaching.

Not that the “external” (i.e. RBC subsidiary) web site is worth shelling out $25 a year for. Admittedly I don’t have huge experiences with business checking accounts and the online services connected to them, having had only two, but RBC’s remittal portal is… well, it’s shit. There’s just no other way of putting it. Your average 12 year old could come up with much better. Not a single hour of contract work was spent trying to make sure that the web app is visually appealing in any way at all, or in performing any sort of usability testing. For example, there is no option to add a payment for your corporate income tax in Quebec. What you must do is register an installment payment, then when you use that item specify the year for which the payment should apply. At the opposite end of the scale when it comes to federal corporate tax payments there is no way to register an operation for installment payments only — you register the operation to pay for your corporate tax, and when you use this item you can then earmark your payment as an installment. No effort whatsoever has been made to make things intelligible or easy to use. It’s just awful,  and hands-down the worst business banking experience I’ve had so far. Had I known, I would have stayed at Desjardins.

My “favorite” feature of it, though, is that it’s only a fake online payment system. It does not actually process your payment online.  Apparently the only thing that shitty “payment” system does is to output a list of tasks which are manually done by a person. This means, among other things, that you cannot use this system to pay for your taxes on the due date, like I could with Desjardins. Instead you can only post transactions to the next working day. And if the next working day is a holiday or legal holiday, that can be up to 4 or 5 days later. I registered a (late) corporate income tax payment today (april 5th) and was informed that it could not be posted before Monday april 9th.

Nor is there any sort of guarantee that the system will even be available at all. Yesterday the system was completely unusable, for instance. It prompted users for a user id and password that they had not created. I was logging in to pay my corporate tax, was unable to do so because of the bank’s incredibly awful, overpriced and badly-designed application wasn’t even available, and as a result my payment will be made 4 days later than it should, incurring me additional penalties. And all because I made the mistake of banking at the Royal Bank.

Nor is RBC any better when it comes to personal banking. Having your account “at the Royal” means an endless litany of fees, long queues at your local branch, and delays which are very difficult to understand. For example, did you know that if you deposit items at an ATM that’s physically connected to your branch, they fall into a black hole for 5 business days? I had this experience recently when I made the mistake of depositing my federal tax refund at the ATM connected to my local branch. I was surprised to find that there was a hold on that deposit that the branch couldn’t remove because in their words they couldn’t know that it was a tax return check. One would expect deposits at a branch’s own ATM to be processed there, but clearly it makes no difference whether you deposit an item at your local branch’s ATM or at one located across the country.

But what really gets my goat about RBC is that they see their customers as nothing but money cows to be milked continuously. Sign up for an account with them and you will find yourself constantly beset by telemarketing upsell calls and endless so-called “free” offers that are designed to suck more and more dollars out of your pockets. I guess they figure that if you’ve had a look at their rates sheet and still bank with them you must be a first-class charlie who exists simply to be exploited and devoured by the parasites of big banking.

So, fuck that. I’m taking my business over to ING. I’ve had a more positive experience with them so far than I’ve had at RBC.

Once again, I’m shocked!

Not too long ago the SEC announced that it was pursuing an investigation against Goldman Sachs for fraud with regards to some funds they sold to their customers. The original story alleged that GS had created a fund that was designed to lose money, because they had a big customer who wanted to create a sure money-loser made up largely of “toxic waste” mortgages; the fraud was said to have taken place when GS turned around and sold parts of that fund to ordinary investors as a normal, hopefully-money-gaining investment.

Well, yesterday it was announced that Goldman Sachs reached a settlement with the SEC over the matter. They are to pay the Feds $550M — over half a billion dollars — to settle it. There was no admission of any guilt or responsibility of course so it would be wrong to imply either. That being said, it certainly goes to show how little one should trust investment bankers, unless one is a member of that particular job club. As those who like to follow these sorts of things in the news know, bankers are not your friends. They make a living based on what they can sell you, not based on your returns. The rest of the world lost its shirt in 2008 because of those guys, but did they miss out on their bonuses? Not a bit.

A reflection on Canadian banks

When I was a younger man in the IT industry there was one thing that always stood out for me — when I worked for a Canadian company, the graphics software that was pretty much always used was the Corel suite; when I worked for larger international companies we had the industry standards that people ask for by name, like Illustrator and Photoshop. I sometimes jokingly referred to that phenomenon as “using what will do” when your paycheck comes from Toronto and “using what you want” if it comes from south of the border. Corel wasn’t the worse thing out there, but there was always a sense of “making do” about it.

I find myself in much the same position now when it comes to banking. I had to close two accounts at CIBC this morning because of horrid customer service that left me stranded cashless for a long weekend; apparently someone at Risk Management saw some suspicious activity on my account and decided to lock things down. Of course this needed to happen on a Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend, and despite my indicating my mobile number on the forms when I opened the account the RM guy was unaware of it, so I didn’t get wind of this until the next day, when, at the market to buy some food, my card stubbornly refused to work. What saved me was that I had decided not to move my business account to CIBC because I really did not feel that the commercial banking rep I talked to knew what she was doing. My instinct at that point was to walk away, and it’s very fortunate that I did. At least I was able to get a couple of hundred bucks out.

Now obviously sometimes a security lockdown has to take place. However the way it was handled is really what led me to walk into my branch and shut down my accounts earlier today. When I called telephone banking I was told I needed to call risk management, so I did, but the office was closed since it was Saturday. I called telephone banking again, but was informed that there was nothing they could do about the block. I was never told that the bank had certain branches open on the weekend, for instance. I talked to 3 different people on Saturday and no one had the presence of mind to inform me of this pretty important piece of information, even though I specifically complained about being left cashless for the weekend.

As to what activity led to the lockdown, I was given a vague description which is consistent with logging on while I was using my company’s VPN. Which would probably explain why the “intruder” just logged in and logged out. CIBC’s online offerings are pretty poor TBH. I wasn’t able to renew my car’s license plates through bill payment for instance, and when I tried to use the link to order cheques I was informed that I couldn’t do that and had to go to the branch. Perhaps I should have paid attention to what’s being said on the internet about CIBC customer service, it seems to leave a bad impression with a lot of people.

The people at the branch were very apologetic and did what they could to try and keep me as a customer, but here’s a hint to anyone in a banking process position: when a customer is left stranded (and stewing) for 3 days before the bank even deigns to inform him as to why he can’t access the ample amount of money in his account, it’s really too late. He won’t be staying. He’ll march up to the counter, close his accounts, and take the bank draft with his balance over to an institution he feels he can trust.

[Oh, and something else. If you are an East Indian person, don’t try to pretend that you’re not when you’re on the phone. You’ll never quite get rid of the “South Asia” accent, and the irony of talking with someone about risk management and identity theft issues when you’re aware that they just gave you an obviously false name is rather unsettling.]

To come back to the earlier theme, however — I spent some time considering the alternatives and found that every bank that has branches in my city is pretty much equally bad when it comes to fees and interest. Why would I bother getting a separate savings account, for example, when the best I can earn is a fraction of a percent annually and am also charged fees that would make a blackmailer feel bad? On those terms, I might as well leave my money in a checking account that earns no interest but also does not charge $5/withdrawal PLUS a monthly fee. I would actually come out ahead in that situation, unless I had $10k to leave in the account. Which I wouldn’t, I would invest it properly instead. In a nutshell, the Canadian savings account is something that’s very much pointless. Even the tax-free savings account, which are theoretically a good idea, have practically zero yield in any of the Canadian banks and at Desjardins. What’s the point of a savings account being tax-free if the best you can get in terms of revenue is $50/year? That’s capital gains and only taxed at 50%, so you’re saving yourself income tax on $25/year. Whoop-dee-doo.

ING Direct is supposed to be a different kind of bank, but as I’ve mentioned before I’m not sure they know what they’re doing on the IT side, which isn’t encouraging for an online-only bank. Ultimately because the banking choices are so limited (and, let’s face it, the banks work together to make sure that high fees and low return are not something the customer can get around) it’s a lose-lose situation for the customer. But the banks are doing great! I certainly hope so; they’re mining the customer to exhaustion at this point. Of course you always have the option of getting into self-directed investments (stocks and bond purchases), and when you start scratching the surface of online brokerages you quickly come to realize that they’re practically all owned by — you guessed it — the big banks. Which goes a long way to explain why we as Canadians pay twice as much per stock transaction as people in the USA. That’s what my experiences at Etrade and Itrade have taught me, anyway.

So in the end there really are no good options for the Canadian banking customer. None. Forget about credit unions too; their investment products have yields that I would consider “pathetic” and their fees are pretty much the same as consumer banks. Why? Because they can charge that much. What’s the customer going to do, hide his cash under the mattress? What Desjardins offers is a rebate on your mortgage payments, funded no doubt by the arbitrage between the amount they get investing customer deposits and the (significantly smaller) amount they pay customers for those deposits. That’s nice if you have a mortgage. I don’t. I suspect that most Canadians have some idea on what they want from a bank, but it’s quite impossible to get what you want. Instead, you get what’ll do, and settle for a low-yield, high-fees account because there just aren’t any ways to get around that. Then again, unlike with software, with the FDIC’s at-risk bank list growing to record levels, things aren’t much rosier States-side.

Online banking FAIL

TFSAs are supposed to be easy to open, but as I found out today it seems terribly easy to screw the pooch. So to ING Direct — fix your registration software because it doesn’t work. There is nothing wrong with my social insurance number — I have used it to register as an employee, to files my taxes, and to open a few bank accounts already and it’s never been a problem before. Hell, I used it to open an RRSP using the ING web site before, yet now my application is rejected because of a problem validating my S.I.N., which hasn’t changed recently. Yeah, I could call and spend half an hour on the phone registering the account, but frankly do I really want to put some of my money into a bank that has no branches AND doesn’t do full QA on their own web software? I don’t think so. So, no linky for you.

An interesting twist to “fiddling while Rome burns”

As if there weren’t already enough known reasons that lead the North American economy to collapse in 08, here’s another — the SEC didn’t see anything bad developing because its staff was too busy looking at porn. So they didn’t see it coming because they were distracted looking at a lot of people coming. They lost sight of the money and concentrated on the money shots. [insert your own porn-themed joke here].

A senior attorney at the SEC’s Washington headquarters spent up to eight hours a day looking at and downloading pornography. When he ran out of hard drive space, he burned the files to CDs or DVDs, which he kept in boxes around his office.

Yes, perseverance is often something to be commended, but it’s really time for that guy to admit he has a problem.

Now that’s some serious souvenir money.

The sports world is abuzz with Cristiano Ronaldo’s acquisition by Real Madrid for a record-setting 96 million Euro transfer fee, but I think the real important story of the day is the capture of two Japanese citizens in Italy who were bound for Switzerland with $134 billion in possibly-counterfeit US securities in $500M and $1B denominations.

Interesting how this story keeps getting blacked-out in the mainstream press, don’t you think? Methinks I detect Kim Jong-Il’s hand in this. North Korea has been turning out high-quality counterfeit US money for over a decade, and it was only a matter of time before they started working on the really valuable stuff. Still, it’s only speculation at this point. Still, is anyone in the market for shady $500M US bonds?..