In Preparedness Tips

It used to be easy to shop and bank online.  Now, you hit snags at every turn. Some of the problems are because banks have more security checks.  All they are doing is stopping legit transactions.  At the same time, millions of people are stuck on hold as they try to prove who they are.

To make matters worse, online banks have a new “security feature”.  They think that if they know where your phone is, they know where you are.  To do that, they need to access the location information on your tablet or phone.  The problem here is what they are looking for and how the device provides it.

Another problem is vendor sites are not meant to handle so much business.  When the vendor has to ship items, the computer may not handle the money the right way.  This can cause you to have overdraft fees and many other problems. Over the last few weeks, I have been dealing with all these issues as I try to buy groceries and other things for my endless DIY projects.  Here are the answers I found that seems to work best.

Duplicate Pending Transactions

Let’s say you buy something for $50.00 from an online vendor.  As you browse the site, you see many notes about delays in shipping.  You complete the transaction just the same. When you go to your online bank or card account ledger, you see that the payment is pending.  This is all fine.  Now let’s say a week or two goes by and the item does not ship.

Here are a few things that can happen:

  • the vendor may send the money back to you before the transaction expires.  If they do not cancel the order, they may take the money out again later on.

I’ve had the same transaction dance in and out five or six times. Some did that a few times a day!  If you have limited transactions per month in your bank account, this can cause a lot of fees.

  • The vendor may send in another transaction and leave it hanging there again.  If the money from the other transaction is still in limbo, you may have twice the amount of money taken out. Some vendors may do this a few times over days to weeks.

As a case in point, one vendor I bought from had a whopping five transactions pending for one order.   This happened over a weekend to boot.  There was no one I could call until Monday.  At $50.00 each, that was an additional $200.00 that I could not use until the matter was fixed.

These endless duplicates can make it very easy to incur overdraft fees.  You also have a lot less control over your money and buying options.

Solutions:

  • Do not Use a Bank Account – If you do all of this on a credit card or prepaid debit card, there is no way for your balance to go below zero. This stops any chance of overdraft fees.
  • Do Not Link to a Bank Account – In some cases, if the transaction would cause a minus balance, the processor will try to take more money from a linked account.  You can still get an overdraft if there is not enough money in the linked account.  If you have limited transactions, you may also get fees for too many.

It is better to have the transaction deny, and then call customer support to free up the money you are supposed to have available.

  • Keep a Checkbook Style Ledger for Your Cards – With so many transactions, this is the only way to know what your real balance is.  Balance the ledger the same way you balance your checkbook.  If the numbers don’t match, find, and solve the problems.
  • Keep a Ledger Card for Each Vendor – Some vendors will make one pending transaction for many items. Then, they will make more money as they ship less than the full order.

A ledger for each vendor will help you spot duplicate transactions and make sure you don’t wind up paying twice.

Be careful, because some vendors will have long expiration dates on their transactions.  I had one that was pending and would have stayed there until July 2021 if I didn’t have my ledger to compare.

  • Spend the Minimum to Get Free Shipping – If you are planning to spend more, make more orders. This will make each duplicate less trouble.

Items That Take a Long Time to Ship

Before COVID, if you bought something online, it shipped within a week. Now, you are lucky if the item ships within 4 months.  COVID or not, your life still must go on.  By the time an item arrives, you are likely to need more things.  As a result, you may have a lot of orders tied up with one vendor.  Keeping track of all that can be very hard.

Here is how to manage:

  • Plan 45 days ahead – if you are going to build something or have other things to do, allow extra time to receive the items.
  • Keep a running list of all expected items.  Make sure to leave room for tracking numbers on the sheet.  Go to the shipper site and watch so you will know when items will arrive.
  • Keep a contact sheet for all shippers and vendors.  You may have to call if something gets lost or doesn’t arrive at your address.

Make sure you also have the number for your local post office instead of just the main number. If you notice a package is going to the wrong place, the local post office will be the best one to help you.

  • In some cases, other shippers will hand off packages to the post office. Make sure you keep abreast of the transfer and timing.

Grocery Shopping “Out of Stock” Challenges

 This is one problem that can cause a lot of overdrafts and more.  Here are things to watch for and solutions:

  • Some vendors do not guarantee prices will remain the same as when you paid. Let’s say you buy meat and it was $3.79 a pound on sale.  Yet, you can’t get delivery until after the sale date. Instead of $3.79 a pound, you get charged a new, higher price.

 If a vendor does this to you, never buy from them again online. It is not your fault that delivery wasn’t there during the sale.  Let them know how you feel via negative ratings.

  • Look for a vendor that gives you an unlimited monthly delivery plan.  Instead of paying a fee for each delivery, you just pay once a month.  You can take the money you save and tip the driver.
  • A delivery plan makes it easier to do repeat orders.  Then, you can get items that were out of stock the first time.  Set up three place holder orders per week using the least amount to start a new order.
  •  Schedule delivery for weekdays because stores seem to have less stock on the weekends.
  • Next, keep a list of all the things you plan to buy, and the amount.   Plan for one month.

Now, if something is out of stock one day, you can just add it to the next delivery.  Since you have already accounted for the money, there won’t be any nasty surprises.

  • Make sure you have a separate ledger for grocery transactions.  You will see transactions that cancel if the items are not in stock.
  • For meat and items that must be weighed, the total price may increase.  Estimate on the high side and then subtract the difference later on so you don’t overspend.
  • Some items are very hard to get.  If you can’t a specific brand, order two or three others. You can also buy different quantities.
  • Be careful about allowing substitutions.  You may get an item that is useless for your needs.  It is better to stick with choosing for yourself and trying again later on.

How to Conquer “Turn on Location Services” While Cashing Checks

Public places always have a lot of germs.  You can cash checks online and save some trouble.  All you have to do is download the PayPal app and use that to take a picture of your check. The other app you can use is Ingo. PayPal relies on Ingo to cash checks.

Both apps are easy to install and use.  The problem happens when you go to cash a check.  You may get a message that says you have to turn on-location services for your device. The idea is that if the bank knows you own the device, and where you are, they can stop fraud. Just about every phone and tablet can connect to GPS satellites.  This is why you can use them instead of regular GPS in your car.

When you are in a building, or there are a lot of tall objects around, the satellite signal can’t reach your device.  Even if the device is looking for a signal, it won’t find it.  It also can’t tell the satellite where it is.  It the satellite can’t find your tablet, then the bank can’t figure out where you are either.

Until the bank can see where you are, it won’t let you try to cash a check.  Fixing this problem takes a few steps.  First, make sure your device has a GPS antenna. Next, go to your location settings. Make sure this section is turned on and in high accuracy mode.

Now, you have to find a spot where the GPS satellites can get a strong lock on where you are. Use an app like GPS Test. You will feel like you are playing Pokemon Go as you search for a place in your yard where the satellites can lock onto your device.

Make sure you take along:

  • The endorsed check.
  • A pen so you can write void on the check when told to do so.
  • Your photo ID.  You may be asked to take a picture of your ID and your face to send with the check.
  • If your device uses WIFI, make sure you also have a strong signal for that.
  • Something to make a dark background.  This makes it easier to take pictures of the check.
  • Tape – if you have to do this outdoors, a breeze can move the check.

Once you find a good spot, you will be in a very good position to cash your check.

While You are Waiting on Hold…

 Right now, many vendors have automated returns.  If you don’t like something, you can return it without speaking to a person.  There are other problems that still require speaking to a person that can fix it:

  • Items get lost.
  • Duplicate charges happen.
  • Wrong things get delivered.

 Depending on the vendor, you may be on hold for hours.  Even more upsetting, the person may not be able to help you.   You may have to call in all over again to find another rep or try a different department. Here are things to help you stay calm and be as effective as possible with these issues:

  • Have all your numbers lined up. This includes the order number, bank transaction numbers, and shipper tracking numbers.
  • Go to the bathroom before you call in. The last thing you want to do is have to go to the bathroom just as your call is answered.
  • Make sure your device battery is charged.  Or, keep it on the charger if the battery is worn.
  • Get comfortable.  Keep snacks and drinks on hand.
  • Have a book to read.  This may be the perfect time to spend a few hours reading a book you have been wanting to read. You can also knit, or do something else to pass the time while you are on hold.
  • Set your device to speakerphone.  There is no point at all to sitting for hours with a phone to your ear.
  • Make sure you have no distractions.  Other people can make it hard to pay attention to when a person comes to the line.
  • Start first thing in the morning.  You may get cut off, or have to talk to someone else.  This way, you have a better chance of getting an answer on the same day.

No Customer Service to Take Your Calls

Some vendors closed their call centers.  It is impossible to reach them to tell them that you need help.  If you are missing money, start by calling your bank or credit card company. They will help you if they can.  In some cases, they can’t cancel a transaction or return your money. For example, usually, you can’t dispute a transaction while it is pending.

When the vendor can’t be reached, and the bank can’t help you, there is just one more thing you can try.  Each state has an Attorney General.  Even if the vendor is not taking calls from you, this official may be able to get an answer.

When you speak to this official, make sure you give them all the facts. They will most likely need the transaction numbers and order numbers so they can get the answers. I always love online shopping because I have more options.  It is also a good way to compare prices and find out what others think of an item.  This is why I have been buying online for decades.

In all these years, though, I have never seen what is going on right now.  The very idea that customer service is not available, is, to me, odd.  I have never seen the banks deny so many transactions. Nor have I seen vendors shift money around in duplicate transactions.

Right now, we don’t know if reopening the economy will be a success.  New York City was hit worse than anywhere else in the world. Italy is still reeling from a health care system that couldn’t deal with all the extra COVID-19 cases.  We don’t know enough about this disease. Nor do we know what its impact will be on the water, food, and power generation.

Time and again, I have said err on the side of caution, and I still do.  Online banking and shopping are things you may need for a very long time.  You may need to do that shopping right now because a full-scale lockdown may be coming.  At least if you know how to get around these 5 problems, you have a better chance of doing more with less money and time.

 

 

 

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