any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice

(An actual letter I just had to send to someone who almost certainly did not deserve it.)

Dear Ms. [Elided]:

My apologies for the intrusion.  My friend [elided] was kind enough to share your contact information with me, and after close to a month of getting the run-around from Clipper customer service both over the phone and in person, I’m willing to try just about anything.

What follows is probably way too verbose.  The nutshell version: my card was blocked on 10/10 because my credit card number changed causing an autoload to fail.  I updated my account with new CC information on 10/11 and autoload began to work again, but the card is still blocked and nobody on the phone or at the clipper service booths have been able to unblock it.  The card serial number is [elided].  Any help you could offer would be deeply appreciated.

The long version:

Sometime in late September, my Visa card was cloned by someone in England.  Visa’s fraud detection department noticed it immediately and reissued my card.  They assured me that any recurrent subscription payments would be automatically migrated to the new card number, and with one glaring exception that was true.  You can probably guess what the exception was.

On October 10th, Clipper tried to autoload a new BART pass onto my card, using the old Visa number.  The transaction was of course declined, and Clipper immediately blocked the entire card.  (As a parenthetical, there was still an active ~$15 e-cash credit for MUNI from the last successful autoload for that product, but apparently clipper’s system can’t distinguish such things and the card was locked on all transit systems.  Which is awesome.)  They sent me an email message informing me of this, and I immediately logged into the clipper website and updated my credit card information.  The website accepted the new CC info, and on Oct 11th I was cheerfully informed via email that in three-to-five days my card would be unblocked.  Which seems like an odd time lag compared to the instantaneous blocking after an autoload failure, but so be it.

Five days later, my card was still not unblocked, but I was about to take a trip to the east coast so I didn’t pay it any mind.  I returned from new york on the 20th, and the card was still blocked.  There followed a series of increasingly hilarious interactions with clipper support:

On this Monday the 24th, a young man cheerfully informed me that there was “an unlock in the system” for my card, and that I would be able to use it again on the morning of the 25th.  This was not true.

On Tuesday the 25th, a young woman answered the phone, got about halfway into stating her name before she dropped the receiver.  After some fumbling around, a second young woman said “hello”.  I said “hello” back, and there was then an awkward silence.  After some prodding, she admitted that she was in fact a Clipper service agent.  After looking at my account, she insisted that what I needed to do was go to a BART fare gate, tag my card, and when the screen flashed the red “See Agent” message, to do exactly the opposite of what it instructed: stand still and hold the card on the reader for another ten seconds.  This, she assured me, would definitely unlock the card.  I had and still have a suspicion that she was yanking my chain, but I figured nothing ventured nothing gained, right?  To the intense annoyance of the people in line behind me at Montgomery station, I tried this, not once but three times: it of course did not work.

Yesterday, the 28th, a young man informed me that actually it wasn’t the BART fare gate that I needed to tag against, but the ticket collection machine.  Possibly the red SFMTA one instead of the blue BART one.  And if that didn’t work, I should take the card to the Embarcadero service booth, since obviously it was damaged.  This of course also did not work, and the BART gate agent at my station assured me that the card was not damaged, just blocked.

Today, I left work early and took my card to the Embarcadero service booth ($3.50 round trip, but what’s a few dollars when I’ve already wasted several hours?), where a very friendly gentleman attempted first to unblock the card himself, then to call Clipper HQ to get more information, and then lastly to attempt to issue me a new card.  As you’ve probably already guessed: Clipper HQ couldn’t tell him anything more than they’d told me, and the system would not let him issue me a new card.  He confessed to me as he handed me the card back that his personal recommendation was to never ever use AutoLoad, because “this is always what happens when anything goes wrong with it.”

So here I am: the Clipper website insists that autoload is working, and in fact has helpfully charged me roughly $60 to top off both my BART pass and my MUNI e-cash.  But the card still doesn’t work, and nobody at any level of Clipper customer support seems to have any idea how to unblock it.  Probably the smart thing to do at this point would be just to cancel the account completely, dispute the last autoload transaction with Visa, happily resume using BART’s paper tickets, and regale friends at bars with this story for a few months in hopes of having them buy me drinks out of sympathy, but literal-minded sort that I am, I find myself thinking that if the card was blocked from the central office with no interaction with me needed, surely the card can be unblocked remotely just as easily without me having to do some sort of complicated dance between multiple card readers.

Please feel free to contact me via email or the phone number below if I can offer any more useful (or at least funny) information about this.  As above, any help you could offer would be deeply appreciated.

Yours,

-Doctor Memory, Esq, PhD, OTO, OGS, etc

  San  Francisco, CA

Crossposted from: blahg.blank.org

Comments

my condolences

banks can drive one almost crazy enough to take to the streets...

seriously, sorry to hear of all this hassle.

Re: my condolences

As someone who recently had their card frozen for moving, despite changing all the addresses, I sympathize at how frustrating this sort of thing is.
You're stuck in a modern-day Kafka novel! My sympathies.
No shit.
If there's another full chapter to this saga, do let us know. I hope the good guy wins.
Have you tried one of the local TV or paper news "customer advocates"? While the media are useless at investigative journalism these days (what's that?), they love a good moral outrage.
Huh, I didn't know you were OTO.

(The rest of this does not surprise me in the least.)

I would definitely dispute the charge

Nothing wakes up an organization than getting Visa in their face. Also, reversed charges cost them money, which they tend to notice.
Oy, gevalt.

When our car was stolen in 2006, we notified EZPass, who suspended it, and confirmed this via snail mail.

We never bothered linking our account to our new car, since we don't travel on toll roads as often.

Recently, EZPass sent us a letter complaining about our low balance and threatening to suspend our account.
Oh dear god. Well, at least that settles my mind about whether or not I should get a clipper card. I hope you find some assistance.
OTO?
I have a clipper card.
It is completely unlinked to auto-pay or whatever. I just top it up at the BART stations/Muni.

This seems to work a lot better than your experience.