Citibank: Everything You Buy Is Fraud, No Matter What You Say

Reader Jim writes:

Consumerist,

Citicards is losing my business. In the process of buying my house, I was buying many large purchases – window treatments, washer and dryer, and other things you never think of. As I expected, Citi got a little suspicious of this activity. Instead of calling me and asking about them, they just started rejecting charges outright. That’s embarrassing to say the least. I called and asked them if they would put all the charges through, and to expect more because I was buying a house. They told me that all my charges would go through.

Cut to this past weekend while I’m waiting at home for my washer and dryer to be delivered. After waiting all morning I call Best Buy to get an update, and they tell me that the credit card company canceled my order. I call Citi back, and they have no record of that order or of canceling it. I assure them that I did order it, I have the receipt, and they did cancel it, and they proceed to argue with me. Then, of course, I get the obligatory sales pitch when I’m trying to get rid of them.

Needless to say, I’ll be canceling my Citicard as soon as my balance is paid off. This is the second time this has happened to me or my wife, and it is two times too many.

Thanks,
Jim

Jim just sent us an update. He still doesn’t have his appliances.

I’m still trying to get this sorted out. I’ve talked to them numerous times, and they still have canceled numerous transactions. Supposedly, there’s a note on my account saying that I authorized high priced purchases (like a washer and dryer), but every time I talk to someone, it’s like they haven’t spoken to me ever. “Fraudulent activity” had no idea that I had talked to customer service twice already the same day. What a bunch of crap.

It’s nice to know your credit card company is watching out for fraud, but if this is how disorganized they are when nothing is wrong—imagine how much fun they’ll be to deal with if something “bad” does happen. We’d get another card if we were you. There are some lovely deals to be had when transferring balances.

(Photo:cmorran123)

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  1. ARP says:

    I had the same thing happen to me when I went to Rome (with Citibank no less). They assumed that since there were a bunch of charges in another country, my number must have been stolen. They started rejecting charges. “OK,” I thought, “an inconvenience, but I’ll call them and clear things up.” When I called them to tell them everything is fine, but they wouldn’t believe me since I was calling from Rome and not my home number. Are there any cards/banks that let you notify them in advance that you’ll be spending a lot money or traveling and not let it simply disappear into the vortex?

  2. Big Poppa Pimp says:

    I’ve had the same problem. I even got declined for a $22.00 dinner at Friendly’s last week. This has happened several times in the last few months. If you do not return a call from the Early Warning Fraud detection people the same day they shut your account down. They also forcibly closed my account because of a loss of account data at TJ Maxx. My patience are wearing thin.

  3. It is usually a good idea to let whatever bank/credit company you plan on using overseas know that you will be making various purchases before leaving home.

  4. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    A couple of years ago, Citi started flagging everything on my card as potentially fraudulent ($500 and $5 purchases alike). This was just in the Bay Area where I lived. Luckily, they weren’t rejecting charges, but calling me every day to verify them. It lasted a couple of weeks and then stopped. No idea why it started or stopped.

  5. hypnotik_jello says:

    sounds like it’s time for an EECB

  6. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    @ARP:

    Whenever I travel out of the country, I plan what cards I’m going to take and call the customer service number on the back of the card. I tell the person where I’m going and how long I’m going to be gone, and they note it on my account. I’ve never had a problem as a result.

  7. tedyc03 says:

    The same thing happened to me when I moved. I racked up about $3k in charges in two days, and Citibank called to verify that it was me. Unfortunately for me they wouldn’t verify me without pulling my credit history because in their words “you might have stolen all that information.” Because like, if I am really not me, but I’m cunning enough to change my address and know my address history, I’m not going to already have a credit report on me too…

  8. huadpe says:

    I actually know one of the guys who designed the Citibank anti-fraud systems. The whole thing is run by a computer using a “neural net” (a program which emulates the learning function of a brain). It’s probably dinging you for the following reasons.

    1. New location. You just bought a house, and I bet it’s in a different city. That adds a few fraud points.

    2. Big ticket items. Again, probably highly abnormal activity on your card.

    3. Balance. If you’re a good consumerist reader, you wouldn’t have had a balance prior to this spending spree, and running a balance for you would raise red flags.

    Now, all of this should be able to be overridden by speaking to them and getting them to put the purchases through.

    Was your card tied to your old home phone number when you got it? If so, they might think you were the defrauder when you called them.

  9. babaki says:

    strange, usually they call you right away. i know amex does this. if they are unwilling to accommodate you, then drop them and get a card with better customer service.

  10. shan6 says:

    @huadpe: This may be a great and useful program, but it doesn’t excuse the trouble they have given him over the phone. I guess it just goes to show that some things still need to have more ties to human interaction to verify the computers.

  11. balthisar says:

    I’ve had excellent experience with Citibank (AAdvantage card, in my case).

    Back in ’05 the correctly flagged my card trying to be used to send money Western Union. That happened in Arizona, and because they used the address on the front of my license (instead of the correct, updated address on back, I know exactly which crappy Arizon hotel it was). That was a trip to Arizona from where I spent a year working in Mexico, where Citi knew I was, and allowed the proper charges.

    When purchasing cabinets, I let them know ahead of time (and also to make sure the “no spending limit” would let me go way the heck over my limit), and it went flawlessly.

    When purchasing appliances at the Sears Appliance Outlet (good place to get good stuff, by the way) for aforehinted kitchen, bank. Transaction declined. Before asking the salesperson to try again, Citibank fraud was already calling me on my cell phone and we got it cleared up before anyone else got into line behind me.

    Every time I forget to let them know I’m going to Mexico, they decline a transaction but are very quick to call me, and instantly make things right again. I just let them know when I expect to be home, and all it well. Even the last time I extended my stay unexpectedly by a week, and used the card up until the last day of the trip.

    There’s one thing that irks me, though — they charge 3% instead of 1% for foreign transactions, even in Canada which is hardly foreign.

    Even though I don’t carry a balance, they also treat me like a king. Any time I call them and enter my number, I get customer service right away. Unless, maybe, they have such good customer service that no one ever gets stuck on hold?

  12. hubris says:

    American Express did something very similar to this. I went to BN one day to buy some books, went to pay and my AE card was declined. I had zero balance on the card, have *always* paid it on time in full every month. This was a 70 dollar purchase, hardly a large one. So I used another card, and called AE. They said it was a precaution, and that it might happen again in the future. I asked if there was any way to protect against this and was told no. What the hell? Fine, if you suspect it might be fraud *call me* and make sure it’s legit. But to just randomly shut down the card so I can’t use it and get embarrassed at the checkout? Screw that.

  13. protest says:

    that sucks, and he should drop them, and not let them get a dime of his $$ in interest.
    i also have a citibank card, and when i was moving i was racking up all sorts of charges. when i bought my mattress the salesman told me that the purchase had been declined. i was like, wtf?? so i called the number on the back and they admitted it was because of suspicious activity and took off the hold, 2 minutes later the salesman ran it again and it went through just fine. i appreciate the security service, even if it was a pain in the ass, but what they are doing to the poster is just rediculous.

  14. mantari says:

    My credit union gave me a call when I made an online purchase from France. They were very polite. (Even if they were mostly covering their own potential exposure.)

  15. JKinNYC says:

    @Big Poppa Pimp: I work at a small bank with high net-worth clients (no fees, crazy high service level). When there is fraud, or a chance of fraud, we ALWAYS close the account and give them a new one. It might be an inconvenience, but you have to do it.

    @rainmkr: Exactly. I just used my Citi cards all over europe after calling them first. No problem whatsoever.

  16. quail says:

    Another way to get your credit card dinged as fraudulent is to make more than 2 purchases of gasoline in the same 24 hour period. It’s advisable if using one card during a long road trip to call and let them know you could be filling up 3 or more times. Or spread your gas purchases over two cards during the day.

  17. howie_in_az says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive!: Perhaps your identity was stolen from Citi and only they know about it.

  18. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    To each his own, but I’d prefer it if my bank outright refused a purchase that they deemed fraudulent. It protects me the most in the end. In the time it takes for a bank to call and actually reach you, and then for you to authorize payments, a thief could be doing a LOT of damage. But if they’d just blocked the purchases first, it wouldn’t even happen to begin with.

    It’s an inconvenience, but probably the lesser of two evils when faced with rebuilding your credit after it’s been seized out from under you.

  19. hollerhither says:

    @omerhi:
    Yeah, AmEx shut down my card over Thanksgiving weekend — I was traveling at the time, which is in no way unusual. They left a message at the end of the business day Wednesday before T-day. Guess what? No one around to handle my issue until the following Monday. That really sucked. And at the time, they told me they couldn’t “guarantee” it wouldn’t happen again. Unacceptable.

    However, it hasn’t happened again, and I still travel a lot, so maybe somehow they modify your account after this happens? I don’t know.

  20. JKinNYC says:

    @quail: That reminds me. I had that happen with my CITI debit card before (One station was in Idaho, one western Canada and one In Montana (CRRRRAZY 36 hours). They called my cell but I was out of range, so my card was rejected when I tried to buy lunch in Montana. I called them all pissed, and it took about an hour, but it was working again eventually.

  21. forever_knight says:

    @ARP: notifying them before hand doesn’t always work. i called citibank before a trip where i was driving across country once. i didn’t want to be stuck with a non functioning card. guess what happened? declined while at the gas station. i pulled out my phone and called them while sitting in my car. the guy on the phone seemed surprised that i was calling him from the pump.

  22. mantari says:

    @pinkbunnyslippers: No, that’s a myth. Report the fraud in a timely manner, and you’re out $50 at most. So I’d very much prefer that they do NOT shut off my card if they get suspicious.

    “But why should the credit card company take all the risk then?” Because that risk is built into the interest rate that you pay. If they want to reduce that risk by shutting off my card when they get paranoid, then I want to see my interest rate lowered, to account for the smaller risk.

  23. kidwei says:

    Hmm.. I just bought a car this past weekend and put some down payments on my citi mastercard, in the order of thousands of dollars. I got a call from an automated system asking me to confirm the last 5 transactions on my card as a fraud check. It went smoothly, and I had no problems. Sounds like the system went haywire on this poor guy.

  24. SadSam says:

    I had the same problem with Citi but not for high priced transactions. If I went to both a gas station and a grocery store in the same day they would reject the grocery store transaction as fraud. This happened more than once and one rep explained that gas and groceries was regularly regarded as fraud by the computer program that monitors for fraud. I asked for the fraud protection to be taken off my card and I was told that wasn’t allowed. Not a big surprise – I ended up cancelling the card.

  25. NoWin says:

    @Big Poppa Pimp: They also forcibly closed my account because of a loss of account data at TJ Maxx.

    That was based upon VISA/MC report that your card data WAS stolen or compromised at TJX. Don’t blame Citi on that one – blame your idiot merchant.

  26. BearTack says:

    I have had five holds on my card in a matter of months. Once for the sin of using the card twice in the same day – one small purchase at a pet store, the other at Lowes. Part of the nuisance is tracking down the authenticity of the phone number or the web address to make sure that I am not being phished. The people at Citibank were less than helpful, and sometimes downright obnoxious.

    An undependable card is of no use to me, and now my Citibank “World Card” is history.

  27. SadSam says:

    Oh and they cancelled the card due to TJMaxx as well – which seemed reasonable except they didn’t send me a new card and didn’t send any correspondence letting me know they were taking such steps. I found out when, once again, the card was declined for fraud.

  28. JKinNYC says:

    @BearTack: I wonder if it varies depending on which card you have. I’ve had success with the AAdvantage cards (debit and credit). Maybe World Card sucks. I wonder which card OP has.

  29. gatopeligroso says:

    How about getting the name or extension of the people you are talking to. “John said this” or “Amy at extension 1234 said that” is much more useful than “one of your service reps”.

  30. DashTheHand says:

    @balthisar: Either you really ARE royalty, or you’re a corporate plant that reeks of turning putting a spin on how great Citi-skank is.

    They are one of the worst customer service centers I’ve ever had to deal with unless it has DRASTICALLY changed in the past 6 months which was when I had enough of their crap, cancelled, and put my card through a shredder.

  31. JKinNYC says:

    @DashTheHand: Which card did you have? I’ve had pretty great experience too, but it seems to vary by person. I have friends who hate them too.

  32. dlab says:

    I had to call Capital One and recount every transaction I made in the past month to one of their fraud agents so they would let me use my card to buy the new Radiohead cd. They considered a suspicious transaction because it was from England…

    Cause hey, when people buy stuff over the Internet, they only buy it from merchants that are really close to them, right?

    I do appreciate being protected. In the past Capital One helped me catch an identity thief who scammed MY OTHER BANK who allowed him/her to transfer $3200 to a new credit card in my name. What I don’t appreciate is being unable to use my credit card when I want to.

    What happened to CALLING ME when a suspicious transaction is attempted?

  33. emt888 says:

    I had the same problem with my Bank of America card. I lived in WI and had traveled to Chicago, and since a purchase was being made out of state, they rejected the transaction.

    My other card is through a local credit union, and they have been great. I have used this card overseas numerous times and as long as I let them know ahead of time, there has been no problem. My suggestion would be to cancel the Citi card (when you can) and go with a smaller, local bank card.

  34. dirtymoney says:

    This happened to me one friday night when I stopped at four fast food places within a timespan of about 20 minutes. I got an immediate recorded call on my cellphone saying that I needed to call citicards right away. I did so & they asked me if the charges were made by me & that all was well? I said “yes, I sometimes stop at several places to get different items on the weekends”, they said “ok” & on my way I went. Its never happened since & I STILL fast-food hop occassionally on the weekends. I dont buy big ticket items with my credit card (I dont buy big ticket items at all for the most part).

  35. tadowguy says:

    Jim,

    You can cancel a card even when you have a balance. The account remains open of course and you probably also have a limited time to pay it off, but perhaps it’s worth looking into. Also, of course, the retention folks can fix more stuff than the normal phone droids.

  36. bonzombiekitty says:

    @ARP: Citibank does let you call them in advance and notify them that you are going to make out of the country charges. I have two Citibank cards and did that last year when I went to Europe. They had put a fraud notice on my card because I had made high ticket purchases (airlines, hotels, etc) for my trip. When I talked to them to lift the fraud alert they also gladly took my information on when and where I was going to be overseas.

  37. UpsetPanda says:

    I had absolutely no problems with my credit card at all. I spent a great deal of money a while ago in Belgium, and had no problems.

  38. Jasmo says:

    Perhaps this is a good time to point out the advantages of using cash? Not, obviously, for buying major appliances, but while traveling, getting gas, eating out … any of the numerous things that have been mentioned above. Cash bypasses the whole credit-industrial complex – fraud alerts, customer service, phone calls, yadda yadda. Sure, you have to plan ahead and be responsible with it, but it works every time.

  39. JKinNYC says:

    @Jasmo: Remind me where you are getting cash on the streets of Prague. Did you bring the cash with you? Traveller’s checks?

    Credit/Debit cards provide lots of protections as well. For some, the nuisance might not be worth it. That’s something you have to weigh individually, but I feel safer paying with my CC or withdrawing money locally with that card.

  40. HalOfBorg says:

    I use a bank/check card for local purchases like gas/food. I filled up my wifes car, then mine, then later went back for gas for the mower.

    Apparently 3 gas purchases a day means my card has been stolen and I was lucky I had cash for the mower gas.

  41. HalOfBorg says:

    And when I bought a computer online, the charge would not go through because it was a change in spending habits. Last two times I made large online purchases I call 800 number and told them to flag account – then no problems.

  42. gingerCE says:

    A while back, Citi contacted me once with a fraud alert due to gas purchases made on a road trip. While annoying, I was glad they called. I’ve been a victim of identity/credit card theft and was thankful once when Nordstrom’s called me to ask about suspicious catalog purchases I didn’t make. Better safe than sorry.

    I bank with Wamu and was told if I planned to use my debit card overseas I had to call ahead of time, which I did, so there was no problem. They also told me to call any credit cards I planned to use overseas and notify them of my trip dates as well, which I didn’t do cause I just used my debit card.

    If this guy was having such a hassle with his credit card, why didn’t he write a check or pay using his debit card? If he didn’t have the money than maybe citibank did him a favor by not allowing him to spend money until he had it to spend. He essentially saved money thank to Citibank.

  43. Snakeophelia says:

    AmEx got curious when I was on my pre-wedding spending spree. However, they were kind enough to get me on the phone in a boutique and verify that I was who I said I was, and authorized the charge on the spot. And I warned them in advance about my destination wedding, so they wouldn’t wonder who was spending $1400 for a dinner 600 miles from where I live. All of that went fine.

    And I must say that I have been caught on the phone at least once with a scammer pretending to be VISA who was asking me for information that would be useful for identity theft (like my SSN) instead of the useless personal information that real companies use (AmEx goes by the name of the neighborhood I grew up in). Surprising how uppity they get when you refuse to give them your SSN.

  44. doormat says:

    This sounds like a passive-aggressive way to reduce your credit limit without actually lowering it.

  45. Lazlo Nibble says:

    When you get declined without an “are you ok” call from the card company, it’s because the transaction(s) in question scored high enough to trip an automatic shutdown on your card with no human review or intervention. They should drop your account into a call-the-customer queue as well, but when someone has a legitimate purchase declined — especially in person, where you have the extra embarrassment factor — they’re probably on the phone to the credit card company before the outbound call request can even make it to a rep.

    International transactions over the Internet score pretty high on the “fraud” scale.

  46. dantsea says:

    Citibank appears to have well-intentioned policies implemented and supported by idiots.

    I reached my limits with them when I had to argue that no, I shouldn’t have to pay an out-of-network ATM fee when I was using their ATM.

  47. Crazytree says:

    it’s a double-edged sword.

    if someone had stolen this guy’s card and had gone on a home improvement shopping spree… he would be writing to consumerist screaming “WHY DIDN’T THEY STOP THESE CLEARLY FRAUDULENT CHARGES?!?! I AM NOT IMPROVING MY HOUSE, THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS.”

  48. AnnC says:

    @HalOfBorg: I don’t understand why multiple trips to the gas station would be considered fraudulent. Thieves use the gas station because it’s an easy way to test if a credit card is still active. Once someone knows a card is active, why go back?

  49. JPropaganda says:

    I bet they just think it’s him, but talking with a teenage girl voice (reference to the commercials ftw)

  50. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    I wonder if there is any connection between the number of charges that he has racked up and his credit limits. It would be understandable if he has a relatively small credit limit and these purchases were very large in proportion to his limit.

    I wonder if the poster would be willing to comment about this, i.e. if the charges were large compared to the CL.

  51. sburnap42 says:

    Chase has done to me four times in the last year. My personal favorite is when they flagged a large electronics purchase from Amazon as “potentially fraudulent”. Amusing as this card is an Amazon rewards card. They also called a transaction through my company’s employee store “potentially fraudulent”.

  52. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    @mantari: Yeah but you still have to go through the PROCESS of getting it all fixed. I recently had my card stolen and didn’t report it until it’d already had been used. Despite the fact that I wasn’t on the hook for any of it, it was a month’s worth of paperwork, ordering a replacement card, waiting for the card to arrive, changing the account number with all the vendors I do business with who automatically debit from it, etc. Sure, $50 isn’t a lot, but it’s a major pain in the ass to reverse the damage once it’s been done.

  53. sleze69 says:

    Don’t forget that if you buy your tickets with the same credit card, you are less likely to get dinged since the card company has a record of your travel.

  54. theblackdog says:

    @AnnC: Did you ever see the movie “Reality Bites”? In one scene, Winona Rider’s character makes some extra money by taking cash from drivers at the gas pump and uses the gas credit card that her dad gave her (and was going to pay) to charge the purchases, so she basically got to walk away with a ton of “free” cash to make her rent that month.

  55. davidc says:

    I have had similar issues, but not with citibank, as I don’t have a card from them.

    One time I used my card like a half dozen times in one day for many different purchases at widely different business … something I generally don’t do.

    On one of the last transactions, the retailers said they were supposed to contact the card issuer (so I guess that was a type of declined charge). They called the number for me, and I talked to the issuer and after identifying myself I didn’t have any further problems that day.

    I have also gotten “after the purchase” calls to my home for uncommonly large purchases … while those calls are annoying, I guess it’s just par for the course.

    One particularly annoying was when my wife called me and asked: So, what did you buy for $X,XXX amount? She had been home when the issuer called to confirm the “unusual” activity.

    Yea … good times!

  56. Caroofikus says:

    I think I’d have to buy it, deliver it myself, and then let them cancel it…free washer and dryer hahaha

  57. ebm says:

    Jim, Citi (Citibank, Citicards) has every right to block your card. Let me correct that, their card. The card may have your name on it and your personal info attached to the account, you are however borrowing their money. If you don’t like their procedures, move on to another bank or use cash.

    In regards to having multiple issues using the card in the same day..wouldn’t you think calling them may resolve the issue? I’ve dealt with customers in the past (VIP escalated calls) in regard to this issue and I’ve always wanted to ask a customer, “What makes you think the card is going to be approved instantly at a 3rd store when the previous two stores declined it? Wouldn’t common sense tell you to call us?”. Apparently not.

    It’s always hilarious to hear a customer say,”I’m paying you off, closing my account and getting a credit card with another bank.” I’ll then proceed to tell them I’ve worked for the two largest banks in the industry and know quite a few people from other banks and they all generally have the same anti-fraud systems in place. “Go ahead and move your business to another bank, you won’t escape the fraud monitoring.”

    Also, most people don’t realize, there are banks who handle and monitor credit cards technically from multiple banks. In many cases, we are not allowed to tell you for example “Yes, we handle your card from “BankA” and “BankB”. That’s what we call transparency and we aren’t going to break that no matter what questions you ask. So next time you threaten to move your credit card business to “BankB”, if you’re laughed at, you’ll know why.

    Bottom line, if you don’t like the monitoring of your credit cards, use cash.