So, I’m back from Hawaii on what was a whirlwind trip with too little time and too much food. Also, do you know how exhausting it is to spend all day being alert and conversational with people? And how sad it is to realize that typical trips to Hawaii often include zero beach visits? Another tidbit of information – it costs $150 to ship a painting from Hawaii to San Diego via UPS “Ground”. Does anyone have a better way to ship large and/or heavy items? I mean specifically, with company names or something. Because there is a large, hand-carved, wooden trunk in my grandparents’ house that I would love to bring home.
I was also going to do a full review of the Trader Joe’s frozen brownie-in-a-box, which I may do with a wrap up of other tasty foods I’ve discovered, but we’ll just sum it up and say I wasn’t impressed. I’ll stick to their chocolate chip cookie dough.
But! The main point of this post is to grumble heartily about the incompetence of Hotels.com so-called Customer Care. Hotels.com is a subsidiary of Expedia, but they have totally separate websites and customer service. To date, I have no grudge with Expedia except that they are partnered with the lame Hotels.com.
I actually do pay attention to my bills and my credit card statements. About 5 years ago, I noticed that my phone bill had almost doubled. When I looked into it, I discovered someone had, somehow, set up a voice mailbox on my account so all calls would be forward there. Apparently, that’s why I wasn’t getting any sales calls or telemarketers on my standalone answering machine. Now, that’s pretty tricky stuff. So, that account got cancelled and I had to change my phone number. It’s also part of the reason I keep a land line. Can you imagine if you had to change your cell phone number? Way more people have that number (personal friends, not companies) than my land line. Someone also got hold of my Discover account and charged a lot of gas on it. I noticed that because it was on an account that I seldom used. So I went through the motions of closing the account, opening a new one, checking credit reports, and monitoring everything.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had to really think about fraud. Well, no, that’s not true. T had his account information taken and someone tried to charge $500 at Wal-Mart in Seattle (or somewhere) twice. It’s scary to think that you can have your credit card in your posession and someone can take the information and transfer it to another piece of plastic. Because you need a physical card to buy gas and items at stores.
Anyway, when I got back from Hawaii, I went through my accounts, updating MS Money and my checkbook. I noticed the balance on my credit card was abnormally high. At first I thought the program was wacky and maybe it had duplicated charges in the register. Then I saw a recent charge for $4,180.26. Now, I had also just paid the balance of our Alaska cruise, but that was well under $4,000! I considered that maybe Holland America had made an error, perhaps charged me twice, but the “Payee” was different. So, I tracked down the phone number associated with the charge and called. The company was IAN Travel Services, but they answer the phone “Hotels.com” and then the headache began.
They must use the lowest-educated people to handle their phone calls, because no one could help. I don’t even think they know how to help. The first guy I talked to was the worst – I had to spell my name 4 times and repeat numbers too many times to count. But, I did get the most information out of him. He told me the charge was for a reservation for 9 nights at the Alex Hotel in NY and that it was under my name and that it had been made over the internet. I told him I never made that reservation. He also said he would forward the file to some other department so they could follow up (this never happened) and that I would have to call my credit card company and file a police report. I did both and my credit card company (Chase) was extremely helpful and informative and the police were, too, actually.
Then I called them back to make sure someone was following up on the matter and would be cancelling the reservation. The girl I talked to was of absolutely no help. She kept trying to tell me that the only person who could have made the reservation was me, as only I had access to my online account (it turns out even I don’t have access to it because I can’t sign in), and the reservation was under my name. She said, why would someone make a reservation under my name when they wouldn’t be able to check in without ID? True, it doesn’t make sense, but I know I didn’t make plans to stay in NY as the check in date was 3/5/08. Also, if I was staying at a $500/night hotel, why would I go through Hotels.com? If I had that much money, wouldn’t I also have people to take care of that for me?
So, after I tried signing in and couldn’t (my “profile” isn’t under any e-mail or username I use) I called “Customer Care” back. I told the girl that I couldn’t sign in and the website said to call them. She then proceeded to tell me to open Internet Explorer and type in hotels.com to get to their website. Then she said in the upper right corner is a link that says “Sign in”. Like I didn’t know how to navigate a website. I told her I know how to get there, but their system wouldn’t let me in and there was a message that said to call them. I then asked to be transferred to their tech support or someone who could help. I was actually put on hold before she told me they don’t have that kind of department and all I could do was open a new account. After I requested to talk to her supervisor, she told me he had “just stepped into a meeting” and that I could call back later.
In between all this, I had called the hotel to let them know what was going on and that I hadn’t made the reservation. The hotel called back to let me know they still hadn’t received any notice of cancellation from Hotels.com. No one ever checked in under the reservation, either.
The next morning, I called the stupid Customer Care number again and someone who spoke English-as-a-first-language (whatever, it sounds harsh, but it’s true) and sounded like he had the ability to think and reason answered so I explained the fraudulent reservation and the fact that no one I had talked to earlier had been of any help. His immediate response was to give me the number of their Corporate office (214-361-7311), where I talked to someone in “Transactions”. At first, this sounded promising, but I’ve since been passed around through departments and no one has, of yet, contacted the hotel to cancel the reservation.
Update: I was finally contacted by someone in the Corporate office and my dealings with that company was completed. However, when I asked if they were going to notify the hotel, I was told that they don’t have to notify hotels on fraudulent charges because the hotel doesn’t receive money until the reservation is complete. Which kind of makes sense except that 1) what happens to the charge on my credit card to IAN Travel Services after I “pay” at the hotel and 2) don’t you think they should notify the hotel so they can release the reservation? I mean, the hotel is kind of counting on getting paid for that reservation ($4,000!!), so isn’t it just courteous to let them know that money isn’t ever showing up?
So, don’t use Hotels.com for anything. Because if you ever have a problem, you will get no help whatsoever. And if you have a profile, who knows what kind of reservations might get erroneously charge to you? I can’t recall ever having made a reservation through them, although I’ve gone through Expedia and Travelocity before, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the error originated in their system. Because, really, it doesn’t make sense for someone else to make a reservation under my name. Hotels check ID when you check in. And if they had added any other name to the reservation, that’s who would get investigated. So, I blame Hotels.com. I don’t honestly believe my identity and credit is in jeopardy, but I’ve still taken the necessary steps.
Coincidentally, I read this post on Get Rich Slowly today, too, on steps to take to prevent and deal with identity theft. And remember, you can get a free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com once a year (1 report from all 3 reporting agencies) or you can request 1 report from 1 agency at a time (thereby spreading it out to 3 reports over the year). You can also place temporary and permanent fraud alerts on your credit report, which means that extra steps must be taken before someone (even you) can open a new account in your name.