AmEx Sends Legal Notice Warning Of Random Denials

Steve says American Express sent him an off-putting letter letting him know it could refuse to authorize his charge at any time. He writes:

I received my Delta Skymiles American Express card invoice which included an “important legal notice”. Among the four pages of changes to the terms, I thought this one was most disturbing:

“We reserve the right to deny any request for authorization for a Charge, even if the Charge would not cause you to exceed your credit line or Cash Advance limit and even if your Account is current and not in default.”

They also advised they were increasing my credit limit by 40%. Which is ironic, since they state above that they may or may not let me use that credit regardless of how timely I am with my payments.

Good to know that AmEx is claiming the rights to make you look like a freeloading loser at restaurants when the waiter returns your card to you with a solemn head shake. I imagine the warning only applies to nefarious card uses, such as online poker and The Twilight Sage: New Moon ticket purchases, but you never know.

Hey, AmExers, have you gotten a similar shot across the bow?

(Photo: frankieleon)


Edit Your Comment

  1. jik says:

    This really isn’t news. All the credit card issuers reserve the right to refuse to authorize any charge for any reason.

    It’s in their best interest to accept all legitimate charges (after all, charges are how they make money!), so they are motivated not to reject charges for no reason. But at the same time, they need to be able to protect themselves against fraud, and sometimes fraud prevention measures are going to result in false positives. That’s life.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      @jik: I can’t help but think a card being used fraudulently isn’t being used by someone who agreed to the card terms, so, does it even need to be said?

      (“YES” says the Lawyer in Lawyertown…)

      • NeverLetMeDown says:


        As jlk said, it’s a false positive issue. This term means that you can’t say “you rejected my card because you thought it was fraud, but it wasn’t fraud, so I’m suing you.”

    • 67alecto says:

      @jik: Yeah, I don’t see the issue – credit card companies can prevent a charge from going through for whatever reason they want.

      When I was working a hotel front desk, Amex were the cards I hated the most. I got “Referral” or an outright decline probably 50% of the time. It would always involve having to call Amex and listen to the customer negotiate with the rep about allowing the charge.

    • vastrightwing says:

      @jik: I think this is in response to the many automatic rejections by poorly written computer programs. “Sure, a human wouldn’t have blocked this charge, but our system specs didn’t have a user case for this scenario. But don’t forget, our fine print allows this to happen. Our bad!”

  2. kaceetheconsumer says:

    I suspect “Important Legal Notice” is really code for “we don’t expect you to read this but it’s not our problem if any of this comes up later and you didn’t pay attention.”

    Unless there was something more specific to his account that suggested they intended to randomly deny him, I doubt they will.

    That being said, as someone who pays their bill off entirely every month (and actually prepays it so the bastards can’t get me with delayed statements or when I’ve just been in surgery/had a baby/etc, gah), if they ever randomly denied me for no good reason, I’d stop using the card forever after that. Trust has to work both ways.

    • FatLynn says:

      @kaceetheconsumer: “Good reason” is hard to define. My CC company declined a purchase I made for about $700 worth of clothing just because I don’t typically shop that way.

      • kaceetheconsumer says:

        @FatLynn: That wouldn’t count as a good reason for me. I expect my credit card companies to flag odd purchases and call me to confirm them, but not deny them.

        I meant good reason like I was maxed out, or tried to purchase with an old expiry date or incorrect extra-code-thingy. You know, actual valid reasons.

  3. carlos_the_dwarf says:


  4. keepher says:

    I did have a refusal once on the AMEX green card. Called AMEX and asked what was up. They were concerned that it was not me or my hubs making the purchase on the net. After the phone call I resubmitted my order and it went flying through. Aggravating? Yes. Understandable? Yes. But they were rapidly responsive so nor harm no foul.

  5. smrtypants44 says:

    I got the same thing on my AMEX blue, another interesting part of it was that they eliminated the charges for going over your limit but “its still important to keep your balance under your limit”.

  6. jan_itor says:

    Nothing particularly odd here. Just their way of saying that they don’t guarantee that every transaction will go through. They could decline a transaction over fraud concerns, there might be system issues when the transaction is processed that causes it to decline, etc.

    No ill intent, they’re just providing full disclosure and giving themselves some legal cover.

  7. Cant_stop_the_rock says:

    You might want to look up “random” in a dictionary. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

    • rpm773 says:

      @Cant_stop_the_rock: Heh. Random misuse of the word “random” is a personal pet peeve of mine.

    • RandomZero says:

      @Cant_stop_the_rock: Actually, it might. At one point, Amex decided they would require random manual audits of preauthorizations (not even actual charges!) my company sent to them. End result: requests were left to languish until they timed out (and returned “Deny”). There was absolutely no pattern to the ones they decided to audit.

  8. LastError says:

    I got the same stuff in my new Skymiles Amex card statement -one pages of charges (not using the card a whole lot) and four pages of new terms and conditions, including the same one mentioned above.

    They’ve never before issued so many pages of changes all at once.

  9. sashazur says:

    BFD. This is the reason I have more than one credit card – I always assume that once in a while, one of my cards could be denied for various reasons; reasons that have nothing to do with me being a deadbeat.

  10. madanthony says:

    Part of this might be that they will block or require additional authorization for charges they think may be fraudulent. I bought something off eBay a while back and went to pay via paypal with my Amex, only to have it not go through. Used a Visa card and it worked fine. Shortly after I got calls and emails from Amex’s fraud department asking if it was legit.

    The email could be a cya for those kinds of things.

  11. morganlh85 says:

    Clearly this means they won’t let you shop at high-risk places like Walmart…:Rolleyes:

  12. amuro98 says:

    I remember a few years ago I went to Costco with my wife, and she used her Amex card. No problems. We then went to the gas pump outside to fill up the car. The charge was refused. So I called customer service and got “Bob” who sounded like Apu’s brother. Through his broken English, “Bob” explained that Amex can reject any charge for no reason. I asked how did Amex expect anyone to use their card when it was basically a blind crap shoot as to whether Amex would let me use my account. At this point “Bob” got upset because he didn’t know what crap shoot meant and transferred me to his manager.

    At this point the conversation diverged from the refused charge to trying to explain that I was not making up words to tease the operators, and that yes, there really IS a game called Craps in the US – but “Bob” and “Steven” should have known that since they both swore to be in the US somewhere.

    Meanwhile I tried the card again, and this time it worked. I never was able to find out why it was refused, or what could I do to prevent it from being refused in the future.

    • HawkWolf says:

      @amuro98: The transaction may have been rejected because it was too soon after the first one. I’ve run into that one before, usually just with caravanning with my family on vacations – trying to use someone’s gas card a minute after they used it will often fail.

      • trujunglist says:


        yeah, that’s happened to me before. the explanation i was given is that you can’t use the same card in the store and then immediately go and pump gas because it might be seen as a duplicate charge. i waited a minute and it was fine.

    • Blueskylaw says:


      If they swore they are in the United States, or if they say I’m in California and you think they’re lying, ask them what their ZIP code is and watch them squirm.

    • bbb111 says:

      @amuro98: “We then went to the gas pump outside to fill up the car. The charge was refused.”

      I tried the card again, and this time it worked.

      Another possibility is that the automatic credit card system at the pump couldn’t get through for authorization. The software for POS systems report a “no answer” as “refused” [probably so they can pass the blame to the credit card company.] I learned this after a gas station regularly refused one brand of card and not another. Each time I called the credit card company and found that there had been no authorization request. The clerk at the station admitted that they had a problem with that brand of card and all transactions were coming back as refused. The credit card manager at my Credit Union confirmed my “no answer”/”refused” theory.

  13. PLATTWORX says:

    My card was declined once many years ago at a restaurant when I had never been late and had no balance.

    Of course, this was the ONE time in my life that my server was a woman I used to work with at a nearby office. The server had to know me the one time my card was declined in error. Ugh!

  14. The Marionette says:

    i can maybe see them doing this with credit cards, but i wonder how it works with debit cards there since the money on there is actually the person’s money.