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.

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?..

Is the greenback collapsing?

Here’s something that’s relatively easy to miss in these hard economic times where importing things from the US had become a luxury once again — there has been a sharp but sustained drop in the value of the US dollar recently. It’s fairly dramatic, too — in the past 3 months the value of the Canadian dollar has gone from $.77 to$ .92 US. That’s almost a 20% rise in the space of a quarter.

There isn’t really anything currently going on in Canada to warrant this sort of price movement, and indeed much the same story is revealed when looking up the relative values of the Euro and the Pound; even the Japanese yen is appreciating despite the plethora of political and economic bad news coming from Tokyo.

Nope — this is not about other currencies appreciating. This is about the USD tanking, and a low dollar means that Americans will spend more for the imports on which their economy depends. This heralds the onset of inflation in the American market. If Americans think they’ve had it tough since October, they’re in for a rude awakening.