Citibank Refused to Process our Red Cross Donation

Wow. After several years of being a happy Citibank credit card customer, they’ve really managed to piss me off. Here’s the deal…

On New Year’s Eve, I went to the Red Cross website to make a donation. I entered all the necessary information, including our contact info, the amount that we wished to donate, and our credit card details. I then hit submit. Everything seemed to go fine, and they promised to send an e-mail confirmation. The next day (Jan. 1, 2007) I happened to log into our credit card account, where I was greeted with the following message from Citi:

A review of this account has shown recent high-risk activity. Please contact our Customer Service Unit at 1-800-950-5114.

I called the number and learned that they had deemed our (attempted) donation suspicious, and they had thus refused the transaction. Huh? A charitable donation made on last day of the year is suspicious? I would venture to guess that a tremendous number of people in this country procrastinate and make charitable contributions on the last day of the year.

The real problem here (aside from the fact that the Red Cross never got their money) is that it’s now 2007, and it looks like we won’t be able to count our donation against the 2006 tax year.

When I brought this up to the Citi CSR, her response was that I should call the Red Cross to find out what happened (why? they’re not the ones that refused the transaction). She also said that, if it had been her, she would’ve called her credit card company immediately if she had trouble completing a transaction. Guess what? So would I. But as I made perfectly clear to her throughout the conversation, there was no indication of trouble on my end. The transaction appeared to go through and Citi made no subsequent attempt to get in touch with me. They just posted a notice on our account for us to see and respond to if/when we ever happened to login and see it.

When I pressed her on the lack of contact, she said that it had “only been a day” and they hadn’t been able to reach us yet. Hadn’t bothered trying is more like it — we were home continually from the time of the transaction until the moment I called, and our phone had been on the hook the entire time. She also stated that they have hundreds of thousands of customers, and can’t be expected to stay in touch with all of them. While I’m all for fraud prevention, this is way overboard.

I have since attempted to follow up with the Red Cross, even though this was in no way their fault (or mine, for that matter). Their donor hotline (1-800-435-7669) referred me to the National Donor Relations and Fundraising department at 1-800-797-8022. Unfortunately, they’re not set up to answer calls, and their voicemail system for requesting a callback seems to be broken — when I press ‘8’ to leave a message, I get error tones and a message saying that “Your call cannot be completed as dialed.” I have thus resorted to e-mailing their National Headquarters. I actually received a relatively quick e-mail response from an actual person, and am now waiting on a callback.

This will not, of course, stop us from donating to the Red Cross — I would just like to arrange for it to be credited in 2006 (for tax purposes), when I actually went through the motions of making the donation. But it is a major headache that I hadn’t counted on, and I place the blame squarely on Citibank. This also makes me wonder how many other donations didn’t go through, and how much money this will end up costing the Red Cross.

19 Responses to “Citibank Refused to Process our Red Cross Donation”

  1. Anonymous

    Citibank has put their fraud system on steroids…my online account is in complete lockdown.

    I see the same “high-risk activity” message along with this lovely note at the bottom:

    “The situation that resulted in risk to your account is under investigation by law enforcement agencies and we are unable to disclose specific information on this case.”

    I call customer service and they just say that they are just upgrading me to a new card that I never asked for and that there’s nothing to worry about. Hello??? How do you shut down an account I’ve had for 11 years and not even call me?

    BTW – I made a donation to the American Cancer Society a few days ago. Coincidence? I think not.

  2. Brad, I understand that perfectly. However, since no goods are being exchanged, there’s no reason that they can’t simply approve the transaction and flag it for followup. If it’s fraudulent, just reverse it. This is disinctly different from purchase transaction, in which the fraudster walks away from the transaction with something of value.

  3. Anonymous

    What you don’t realize is that there are a multitude of fraud charges going to charitable organizations. Many times, I have seen accounts with fraudulent activity similar to a robin hood movie. Someone steels the info, and runs up 10,000$ in charitable donations. It’s standard credit card fraud policy to check on large charitable donations.

  4. Sure, they called Tom. But in my case, they flat out refused the charge without so much as a peep. And given that no goods are actually exchanged on a transaction like this (a charitable donation), there was *no risk* to them approving the transaction. They could still flag my account and shut it down if the Red Cross donation was followed by (say) electronics from Best Buy.

  5. Anonymous

    Most ID theft starts with a minute charge as a test, usually in a state nowhere near you (ie your Oregon and MA connection) – they then hit you with a bigger one. BE GLAD THEY CALLED YOU!

  6. Anonymous

    Funny you should mention Citibank and their fraud alerts! I am a new customer to Citi (maybe 3 weeks, got their Diamond Preferred Rewards AmEx) and already I’ve gotten my first fraud alert!

    First, its a snail mail letter dated December 27. Its now January 3. If this is so important maybe they should make a phone call? So I figure what the hell, I’ll give them a call. Wouldn’t you know it? Their systems are down and I should try to call back in 30 minutes! Not off to a very good start here Citibank!

    My best guess on what triggered the alert is that I live in Oregon but recently visited my family over the holidays in Massachusetts. While there I made a purchase in a supermarket for a whopping $0.79!!! Quick call in the feds!!!

    As far as blocking transactions entirely, wow, just wow. Can’t believe they’d be willing to risk a lawsuit over doing something like that. I’ll award a cookie to whoever find the statement in their terms and conditions that allows them to do that!

  7. Anonymous

    I imagine there were quite a few donations made at the last minute and would even understand if Citi’s website went down or something. But for the life of me, I can not understand Citi’s logic in your situation. A fraud alert on a CHARITABLE DONATION? A good Samaritan thief? Umm, ok. Citi is officially stoopit!

  8. Anonymous

    I’ve been thinking about the same thing recently. Most of our giving is done via check (through our local church), but we still give a substantial amount via our credit card to other agencies. I figure they get in the neighborhood of 4-5% less (or more), while I get, in most cases, 1% back. At the moment, I’m leaning toward setting up all my scheduled charitable giving as automatic payments out of my bank and letting the charity keep more.

    Means the wife and I might have one less free dinner out during the year, but I guess that’s part of my sacrifice 🙂

  9. Anonymous

    I guess the moral is, don’t wait until the last minute 🙂 Of course, I’m not one to talk, I made our annual contribution on the Mercy Corps website in the fading hours of 12/31.

    Question for everyone, I put the charitable donation on our cashback AmEx card. I know AmEx takes a higher cut of the payment than our non-rewards Visa does for their fees and to fund the cashback program.

    That being said, is it being greedy to put a charitable donation on a cashback card?

  10. Anonymous

    Might not be the right place but came to notify a serious thing.

    PS: I would like to notify about a Major risk in wordpress that i was able to find.Its major hack in wordpress having a risk of 7/10.I am not advertising but do look at my post html-injection-and-being-hacked.Please do notify about this to other bloggers.I had a talk with Matt(WordPress) on email about it

  11. Anonymous

    I too have a Citi Simplicity (ha ha) credit card that I got to use for wedding expenses (something about a 0% rate for a year). However, every time I used it for the first couple of months (grocery stores and gas stations especially) they would call me to confirm no fraud. If they couldn’t get a hold of me they put a block on the card and at one time I was at the grocery store (after using it at a gas station, I was told this was very sketchy activity by the Citi customer service rep) and I could not check out b/c of a fraud block. I had no other means of payment with me and I also (my own fault) did not have my driver’s license with me. I had to leave the grocery cart full of groceries at the store. When I got home I called Citibank and told them if they ever called me again with a fraud alert or ever put a block on my card again I would cancel my credit card. Since then the card has worked fine, once its paid off I plan to cancel it and never use Citibank again.

  12. Anonymous

    Dumb question… or maybe a topic for a different thread.

    I anticipate making more money in 2007 than 2006. Now it’s likely only to be 3% or whatever COLA I luck into under the guise of ‘outstanding performance’. I would prefer to have the deduction in the latest year.

    So, the only benefit I see to making sure this goes against 2006 is the opportunity cost of not having that money to invest for 12 months. Considering it’s charity and probably not much interest accruing (unless you are VERY GENEROUS), I’d probably leave well enough alone with backdating. Am I missing something?

    Now the problem with Citibank is a different matter. I’ll leave my opinion about them out of this. 🙂

  13. I like fraud protection, too. But in the past, this has always involved them calling to be sure a charge is legit, not flat out denying it with no warning. And in this case, since no goods changed hands, there is no risk to letting the charge go through and then calling me up to verify it. They can always reverse the charge later with no harm done. And while mistakes do happen, Citi acted as if this is standard operating procedure for them.

  14. Anonymous

    I have to play the devil’s advocate here. I like the fraud protection effort by credit cards. They are the first line of defense against identity theft and are offered at no additional cost. I understand that this whole episode must be very annoying but mistakes do happen. Why not start the new year by forgiving and forgetting 🙂

  15. Anonymous

    Get used to such foolishness with Citibank. Until early 2006, I had used them as my primary credit card for over ten years. Since I got miles for purchases, I used the card for almost everything, and paid my bill every month. Never was late with a payment. Never disputed a charge.

    But over the last five years or so, I was getting fraud alert calls and letters similar to yours on an almost monthly basis. Buy something on the internet (just like a thousand times before)? Get a call. Spend $5 at Wendy’s? Get a call. And so on.

    I got so sick of it that I decided to open a new air miles account with another airline/bank, using the Citi card only rarely. Haven’t gotten a single fraud alert from the new company. The Citi ones keep coming, though.

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