What a Difference a Bank Makes

Service I can count on.

After too many years banking with Bank of America and, before that, Wells Fargo, I finally moved my personal and business banking to a small, local bank in the small city near where I live. The difference is amazing.

I should start off by saying that when I opened my bank accounts at Bank of America in Wickenburg, Arizona, I got incredible personalized service from one of the bank officers, Mary. I’m not sure if it’s because of the number of accounts my wasband and I opened or some of the balances I maintained, but I like to think it was just the local branch’s way of doing business. Whenever I went into the bank — which wasn’t very often — I was greeted by name by the banker I worked with most often. If she wasn’t busy, we often chatted. When I needed something — for example, an increase on my home-equity line of credit —  she handled it immediately at her desk with a minimum amount of effort on my part. Banking was easy and that’s why I stuck with Bank of America for as long as I did.

But things change. 

When the economy tanked in 2008, banking with Bank of America changed too. The first thing they did was try to recall the home-equity line of credit that my wasband and I often depended on to meet shortfalls in income — me, because of the nature of my quarterly royalty payments (my only source of income at the time), and him, because of his periodic inability to hold down a job. I went to the bank to talk to my usual banker and she told me that her hands were tied. Instead of working with her, I was forced to work with the loan department people in the corporate office, providing them with documents to prove the amount of equity we had in our almost paid-for house. It was extremely stressful, although it did work out satisfactorily, with a reduction in the credit line that still met our needs. At least they hadn’t closed the account. 

After that, banking at Bank of America seem to have all kinds of additional fees and requirements and the friendly atmosphere that I had enjoyed for so many years was gone. Mary left and I felt as if I no longer had a banker. The only thing that kept me banking there was the convenience of their free online banking services and iPhone app. But later, when I moved to Washington state and they closed down all of the Washington branches in my area, it became a real ordeal to make deposits during my busy summer months when I often exceeded the total amount I could deposit using the bank’s iPhone app.

Bank of America wasn’t changing so I’d have to.

I found Peoples Bank when I was out in Wenatchee searching for a specialized signature confirmation document I needed for some divorce-related paperwork. With the local Bank of America branches closed, I found myself at a loss for getting these papers signed and sent out. I had a nice conversation with the bank manager at Peoples and was impressed by the friendly atmosphere that was so similar to what I’d experienced at my local Bank of America branch in Wickenburg all those years before. 

A few months later, when I was ready to move to a new bank, I went back to Peoples. Although the bank manager I’d spoken to was gone, a customer service representative, Selene, stepped right up to help me. She’s been my banker ever since. She’s friendly and enthusiastic and although I’m not in the bank very often — I use the ATM to make deposits — she always greets me by name when I come in. I opened four accounts (two business and two personal) and love how easy it is to move money between them and pay all my bills online. Their banking app isn’t quite as good as Bank of America’s, but it’s good enough.

And now comes the reason why I’m writing this blog post today. 

Helicopter in Overhaul
After three months in the shop, Zero-Mike-Lima’s overhaul was nearly done when I visited it two weeks ago. I pick it up on Monday.

I’m in California preparing for my seasonal frost control job in the Sacramento area. I moved my truck and camper to the airport where I’ll be based for the next two months. On Monday, I fly back to Phoenix to pick up my helicopter, which is just coming out of its 12 year overhaul. To pick up the helicopter, I needed to make a final payment to the maintenance shop and they wanted that payment sent to them by wire transfer.

There are no Peoples Bank branches here in California and I couldn’t imagine, at first, how I could make a wire transfer — for a significant amount of money — without filling out forms at my bank. But I called Selene and after a quick hello-how-are-you conversation, told her what I needed. She told me that because I was a good customer and that she knew me and my voice, she could handle the wire transfer for me. She would just need to do a few security checks that could be handled over the phone. She asked me to send her an email message with the information for the wire transfer, including the recipient, wire instructions, and amount. Since I had a copy of the form for the last wire transfer I had done with her to the same maintenance shop, I sent that along as well. She called me back a while later, we did the security stuff, and she did the transfer for me. The whole process took less than an hour.

Needless to say, I was very pleased.

In my opinion, there’s no substitute for banking with people that you know. For a very long time, I kept my personal savings in an online bank — ING Direct, which became Capital One 360 — account, mostly because I was able to earn very good interest there. (For a while, it was 8%!) It was always a hassle to move my money from one bank to another and that didn’t get any easier when my local bank branches simply weren’t available anymore. The days of high interest on savings are long gone, so it makes sense to keep my money together in one bank. The added benefit is having multiple accounts that help establish me as a good bank customer that, in turn, helps me get the service I need when I need it.

I guess what I’m trying to say with all this is that there’s nothing quite as pleasant or convenient as having a personal banker in a small, local bank that meets your needs.

DJI Sales Support Experience

When sales support is solely by chat with a support team based in China.

I ordered my DJI Mavic Pro drone on January 3, 2017. At the time, the DJI website said it would take 4 to 6 weeks to ship. I was traveling and set up delivery to my friend Jim’s house in Wickenburg, AZ.

I should mention here that the first time I tried placing the order, my credit card company declined it and immediately texted me about possible fraud. I responded to the prompts via text messaging to assure the company I had authorized the order. Then I resubmitted payment and it appeared to go through. I even got a confirmation message about it from DJI.

I ordered the drone using an email address I reserve for shopping. That address is not set up on my iPhone or iPad, the two devices I use most when I’m on the road. It was set up on my MacBook Air, but I seldom fired that up. So it was a full week before I learned that there was a problem with my order. By that time, I was camped out along the Colorado River in a campsite with spotty cell phone coverage. I fired up my MacBook, fetched email, and got the following message from DJI Sales:

A message from DJI

Have you ever heard anything so absurd?

Of course, I was not going to scan my credit card or driver’s license and send it to some anonymous person in China or anywhere else. I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.

I was also not prepared to call China from my cell phone or any other phone.

I attempted to get them to call me and got an email message saying they tried but couldn’t get through. I had absolutely no indication on my phone of a missed call from China or anywhere else. They suggested I try online chat.

DJI’s chat sucks, pure and simple. You go to their online store’s home page and click a button. A window opens with a boilerplate message with tempting links:

Chat System:

Dear customers, thank you for choosing DJI. The system is transferring the chat to operator service. Please wait.

Order before JAN 5th and your Mavic Pro will ship before JAN 18th. Orders placed prior to this annoucement will still be prioritized. Learn more
For a small additional charge, DJI Care Refresh offers up to two replacement units. Water damage is also covered! Purchase now

Of course, by this point it was January 11. My order had gotten in on time. Or had it?

The system then tells you that there are 36 people in front of you on chat. So you wait. The number counts down. Then goes up. Then goes down again. Back and forth, slowly making its way down.

When it hits about 4 or 7 or 3, someone finally answers the chat.

Wilmar

Hello, my name is Wilmar.Thank you for contacting DJI customer support. How can I help you today?

08:32

Me

What is the status of my order?

Wilmar

Order number?

Me

001602399####

Seems to be an issue with credit card payment?

08:33

I am in a remote location with spotty internet coverage. Please let’s resolve any issues now while I can.

Are you still there?

Wilmar

Let me check

08:34

Me

Thank you.

08:37

Wilmar

The sttaus of your order is still on payment review.

Me

Let’s fix this now.

Wilmar

OK

Did you have any contact with your bank?

08:39

Me

Yes, I can. But I’ve already told them the charge is valid.

They rejected first time and texted me about possible fraud.

Wilmar

Oh ok. Can you contact them?

Me

I returned text to say charge was good.

I can try now, but not sure what kind of menu they will put me in.

08:40

Wilmar

But it states here, Review status

Me

What do you need me to do?

I am calling them now.

08:41

At this point, I called my credit card company on the phone and began navigating a telephone menu.

Me

In a call menu with my bank now.

Wilmar

Alright. Willing to wait.

sure.

Me

When I get a person, I’ll ask if the charge went through.

08:43

Waiting for person now.

Hold music.

Wilmar

Its fine.

I talked to a credit card company person. I had to go through the usual identification thing. He looked up the charges and saw both the rejected charge and the one that had been approved.

Me

08:46

Bank says charge went through.

Says two tries and they accepted one and declined other.

You have my money.

08:47

Wilmar

Please hold, let me check it again

Me

Bank says it is approved but pending. You have to accept.

He can provide authorization code.

Do you want that.

08:49

Wilmar

Please?

Me

09#####

08:51

Did you get that?

Wilmar

Thank you

08:52

Me

Can you charge it now, please? The bank is waiting.

Wilmar

I’ll do my best

I chatted on the phone with the banking person. He was very pleasant and didn’t mind chatting. Nothing from Wilmar.

Me

08:55

I’m still waiting with the bank.

Wilmar

You are still on the line with them?

Me

Yes!

I’m waiting to make sure the charge goes through.

Wilmar

You can disconnect now from them please.

08:56

Me

Ok.

I said goodbye to the bank person and hung up.

Wilmar

What I am doing right now is sending an email follow up directly to headquarters about this status of your order number.

Me

Ok.

09:02

Wilmar

Still there?

Me

Yes!

09:03

Wilmar

Thank you for the patience MAria

Chat System

Without any further response, the chat has been closed automatically. 

Yep. It hung up on me. I clicked buttons to reconnect and waited behind who knows how many people.

Chat System

The chat is connected again

Dear customers, thank you for choosing DJI. The system is transferring the chat to operator service. Please wait.

Order before JAN 5th and your Mavic Pro will ship before JAN 18th. Orders placed prior to this annoucement will still be prioritized. Learn more
For a small additional charge, DJI Care Refresh offers up to two replacement units. Water damage is also covered! Purchase now

Finally:

Melou

Hello, my name is Melou.How can I help you today?

09:06

Me

I just want this resolved. I am traveling and I need to know when the drone will arrive so I can coordinate pickup.

Was chatting with Wilmar.

What is the current status of my order?

09:07

I ordered on Jan 3. My order should go out before Jan 18.

Order 001602399####

09:09

Melou

hi

ok let me check that

09:11

upon checking here regarding the status of your order its still in review

Me

What else do I need to give you?

9:15

Melou

There could be a payment risk with the order, which our risk control team will manually assess before accepting the payment.

Me

I provided an approval code from the bank.

Do you also want it?

I ordered this on January 3. I did not know about an order problem until this week

I am traveling and have limited access to email.

9:17

I would like it shipped on time — before January 18 like all other early orders.

Melou

If your payment cannot go through, Customer have 2 options…First we suggest to contact the issuing bank for help. If they cannot identify the problem, or try another method of payment.

Me

I don’t see why there is a delay when my credit card bank approved it on January 3

I did this.

The credit card bank approved it.

9:18

It shows up as pending on my account. The bank says all you need to do is accept the charge.

I provided Wilmar with the bank’s approval code from January 3.

What is the problem? Why is this still being delayed?

9:20

Do you want the bank’s phone number?

Melou

if there is no issue with the card or the bank it will be a smooth transaction…our system will detect if theres an issue for the payment and automatic it will not go through…we suggest to customer to try again and if you still getting same issue…you need to use another mode of payment

09:21

Me

That’s not what the email I got from your payment people said.

Also, MY BANK ALREADY APPROVED THIS CHARGE.

There is NO PROBLEM with it.

09:23

I have no way of contacting you by phone and I can’t get any help from Chat. What am I supposed to do?

Is this how all of your support works?

What will happen if I have a problem with my drone? Will I get the same bad “support” I’m getting now?

09:24

There’s noting “smooth” about this.

Melou

you need to use another mode of payment

09:25

Me

HOW?

I don’t have another method of payment.

This charge was approved by my bank.

09:28

Please have someone call me. My phone number is 509-699-####. US.

09:31

That’s when I started losing my patience. I resorted to copy and paste.

Me

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

09:32

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

09:33

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

09:34

Melou

We accept the following forms of payment:

1) Credit Cards

– MasterCard

– Visa

– JCB

– American Express (Europe Only)

– Diners (Europe Only)

2) Debit Cards

– Visa Debit

– MasterCard Debit

3) Paypal

4) Paypal Credit (US and UK only)

5) Paypal Express

6) Bank Transfer

Me

I paid with a visa.

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

09:36

Melou

.

Me

I spent 15 minutes on the phone today with my bank while chatting with Wilmar.

09:38

I got the approval code.

The bank has accepted the charge.

Why won’t you take my money?

Why can’t someone call me to resolve this?

09:39

I am spending more than $1,300. Why can’t I get a little customer service?

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

Melou

so our finacial department will double check on that

09:40

Me

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

Melou

all you need to do is to wait..since the status is Review

I’ve been waiting more than a week.

I’m tired of waiting.

You are delaying my order.

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

09:45

Melou

you have an option to purchase in retailers

This really pissed me off. The Mavic Pro wasn’t available anywhere yet. Amazon said it wouldn’t get them until mid-February — which is why I hadn’t ordered from Amazon.

Me

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

09:46

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

Why can’t I talk to someone who can help me????

09:47

Why are you refusing to take my money?

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

09:49

Wilmar did not tell me that I needed another method of payment. Why are you telling me this?

Melou

for now we only have chat support

Me

Chat support is not support.

You are not supporting me.

Melou

yes i need to inform you that because you are having issue with the payment..

Me

You are not helping me.

09:50

I want to TALK to someone there who can resolve this. Call me at 509-699-####. US.

Melou

i provide you all the options regarding your concenr

concern

Me

No. Wilmar did. You are just sending me scripted responses.

Chat System

Without any further response, the chat has been closed automatically. 

Yep. She hung up on me. Okay, so I was being a bitch, but I’d been at it for over an hour, including wait time, and still had no idea if my order had been processed. So I got back on chat again.

Amazingly, I got Wilmar again. I guess there are only two of them in the call center. When he realized it was me, he disconnected me.

At that point, I was pretty pissed off and didn’t care if my order went through or not. I could easily call the credit card company and stop the charge. But instead of doing anything, I went for a walk with Penny to cool down. And when I got back to my computer and looked at my order status on DJI’s website, it saw that it had been approved for January 3.

My friend Jim, who has ordered two drones from them, says that their technical support department is much better. That’s all handled in the U.S. — at least for U.S. customers. There’s a phone number you can call and actually speak to a person. While that’s reassuring, I still worry. And I wonder why their sales support is so bad after all, they should be much better at taking customer’s money, no? Would it kill them to set up a call center somewhere in the U.S? Aren’t they making enough money to do that? These things aren’t cheap.

My drone arrived in Wickenburg on January 19 and some friends of mine rendezvoused with me in Quartzsite to drop it off on Monday, January 23. I’ve been playing with it — teaching myself how to fly it — ever since.

I just hope I never need to deal with DJI sales again.

Snowbirding 2017: Fossil Shopping at Desert Gardens

Too beautiful to pass up.

I’m camped out in the desert south of Ehrenberg, AZ these days with friends. On Friday, I went into nearby Quartzsite with my friend Rebecca. She wanted to meet up with her friend John, a jewelry maker who sells raw rocks, gems, cabs, and jewelry at the Desert Gardens rock show in the southwest corner of town.

I’d only been to Desert Gardens a few times and every time there had been just a handful of scattered vendors on the dusty flat show grounds. Nothing to impress me. But Friday was different. The official show had begun and all vendors were present and accounted for. It was a rockhound’s paradise, with all kinds of rocks, gems, and minerals on display and for sale.

John’s booth had a nice mixture of things. His jewelry is exquisite. He has a real eye for design and there were more than a few pieces I would have bought if I had the money — they were not cheap — and someplace to wear them.

While he and Rebecca chatted, I wandered through the show with Penny, stopping here and there to look at things that interested me. While I do think a lot of the raw, unprocessed rocks are interesting, they don’t interest me nearly as much as pieces that have been cut and polished. There was plenty of that to see, too.

But what really interested me were the fossils. My wasband had collected two that we displayed in our old living room. I’d left them behind — after all, he’d bought them, not me — and I can’t say I really missed them. They were interesting, but not worth lugging up to Washington. One was a flat rock with the skeletal remains of a fossilized fish. Someone had “enhanced” the fossil, making it easier to see. The other was a large ammonite — a nautilus-shaped creature — that stood upright like a carved rock paperweight. I always worried that it would fall over and break the glass-topped coffee table.

I need to stress here that although I think fossils are interesting, I’d don’t have any overwhelming desires to own them. At least I didn’t. Until Friday.

That’s when I saw fossils presented in a new way in a shed turned into a fossil shop at Desert Gardens.

First was the ammonite. Each one had been cleanly cut in half vertically to show the inside, which had been polished. The colors and textures and patterns were amazing. And I found it incredibly appealing to have both halves of the fossil — not just one. There were dozens of them at the shop in a wide range of sizes and prices, ranging from $5 all the way up to more than $100. I wanted one that would fit inside my little curio cabinet at home. Here’s the one I wound up buying later in the day.

Ammonite-Inside
Here’s the inside of the ammonite fossil I bought.

Ammonite-Outside
And here’s the outside of the same fossil, which was also polished.

Next were the fossilized leaves. There were a handful that caught my eye and were within my price range for what was, effectively, a rock. As the guy who owned the booth told me, the rocks are nodules that they heat and then thrown in a freezer. The sudden change of temperature causes them to split, revealing any fossils inside. He saw the ones I was looking at and then said, “Did you see these over here?” I hadn’t. They were magnificent, but also a bit more money than I wanted to spend on a rock. Still one of them, an annularia, was just too beautiful to pass up. I asked him for his best price and he knocked $10 off. I bought it.

Annularia Fossil
The annularia fossil I bought. It’s about seven hinches long.

They wrapped everything up in paper and even put the annularia in a box. I took them out when I got back to my camper just to photograph them. Then I stowed them away in the wine box I’ve been using to store acquisitions during my travels. I’m looking forward to unpacking that box and putting my finds on display at home.

If you’re in Arizona or southern California, I highly recommend Desert Gardens from now until about mid-January as a place to find rocks, minerals, and fossils. Later in the month, half the vendors go south to Tucson, leaving the show in Quartzsite a bit sparse. They return in February for a while, but I really think the best time to shop for rocks in Quartzsite is now. Get on over there and see what treasures you can find.

Unlikely Tour Reservation Scam

How many times have I gotten these? Too many to count.

Got this in my email inbox for Flying M Air yesterday.

Reservation Email
This simple message has plenty of flags to indicate it’s a scam.

Looks good, huh? Three days worth of helicopter tours for four people. Cha-ching!

It’s fake, of course. Want to know how I can tell? Here are the flags:

  • “Vacation in your state.” Which state is that? Believe it or not, I’m still getting requests from people who think I still operate in Arizona. (I left the state in 2013.) The vagueness of this screams “boilerplate” or “template.” It also makes me wonder how many other tour operators got the exact same message yesterday.
  • “Reservation for 2 couples.” My aircraft only holds three passengers. Martin obviously hasn’t done his homework before dangling his credit card.
  • “Confirm availability and total cost.” How could I possibly calculate a “total cost” if I have no idea what he wants?
  • No phone number. The sender hasn’t provided any method other than an email address to contact him. Why not?
  • Sender Gmail account. Yes, I know that real people have Gmail accounts, too. But do they usually spell their last names wrong in the account address?

Yes, this is a scam. I actually played along with one of these years ago to see what he wanted. You can read the details here. How interesting to see that it’s still being played. I guess there are enough suckers out there to make trying it worthwhile.

Don’t get scammed. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Phishing Scam: Mailbox is Almost Full

Here’s a new twist on an old scam.

Got this email today:

Phishing Email

If you can’t read it, it says:

Your mailbox is almost full.

Dear [redacted]@marialanger.com,

3840MB 4096MB
Current size Maximum size

Please reduce your mailbox size. Delete any items you don’t need from your mailbox and empty your Deleted Items folder. Click here to do reduce size automatically.

Of course, the “click here” link takes you to a PHP page on a site that has nothing to do with my email server, my domain name, my ISP, the sender’s domain name, or even Google, which, for some reason appears in the footer with yet another link to the same page.

Come on, folks! Don’t be fooled into clicking links in email messages, especially if they’re from someone you don’t know. This is how hackers get into your email and social networking accounts or even your bank accounts. This is how they send email messages to your friends, trying to lure them into the same phishing scams.

Spread the word, educate the folks who don’t know better.

A Note on Apple Stock

I’m doing some math this morning and I thought I’d share an old image.

In January 1997, in Apple’s darkest days, I purchased 50 shares of Apple stock for $16.75 per share.

Back in those days, you bought actual stock certificates and I kept mine in a safe at home. Over the years, I bought and sold more Apple stock using a brokerage account. Meanwhile, these shares snug in the safe, began to grow. Not only did they grow in market value as Apple rebounded and became the major technology player it is today, but there were three stock splits, 2:1, 2:1, and 7:1 over the years.

Apple Stock Certificate
Back in 1997, Apple stock looked like this.

I transferred the stock certificate and its offspring to a brokerage account before the 7:1 split, so it would be more liquid. I sold it off in bits and pieces over the years to help finance various other investments like my first helicopter and a small apartment building I used to own. Because of the splits, there were always shares to sell. In 2013 and 2014, these shares were instrumental in helping finance my crazy divorce and build my new home.

I still have some of those original shares. If you do the math — which I did this morning — you’ll discover that the shares I have left have a cost basis of about 60¢ per share. This morning, Apple opened at $114.57 per share. If I still had all the shares from this original investment (which, sadly, I do not), it would be worth $160,398 — all from a $837 investment by someone with faith in a failing company.

China Cheap

How do they do it?

When I was in Quartzsite, AZ this past winter, wandering around the sales, I bought a new pair of reading glasses with yellow-tinted lenses to cut the blue light from mobile devices. I’d heard that the blue light was bad if you used a device at night, which I did. Often. I think the glasses have helped improve my sleep patterns.

Because I need readers with me all the time and I don’t always carry a purse or clothes with suitable pockets, I’d taken to wearing the glasses on a chain around my neck, kind of like a stereotypical librarian from the 1950s. (I’ve been accused of many things, but vanity is not one of them.) When I bought the new readers, they also had beaded chains that were quite pretty and only $2. I bought one.

I wore it just about every single day for six months. Then it broke, dropping microscopic beads on the floor. I was definitely not going to restring them. With heavy heart, I tossed the chain away and got online to find a replacement.

Nice looking beaded chains were available on Amazon.com starting at about $12. Surely I could do better.

I did. On eBay. $3.56 with free shipping. I submitted an order and paid with PayPal.

I knew it was coming from China and I figured it would take a long time. Maybe a month. Whatever. I wasn’t in any hurry. I still had the old chain I’d used before the nice beaded one.

China Letter
A letter informed me my eyeglasses chain was on its way.

China Box
My new eyeglass chain arrived in a very nice satin-lined gift box.

The chain on my glasses
Although not quite as pretty as the one I broke, my new eyeglasses chain certainly does the job.

But within a few days, I got an email message from the Chinese company I’d bought from. It was written in perfect English, easy to understand, and complete in the information I needed. If scammers wrote letters this nice, they’d fool more people.

The package arrived about a week later. It was a padded envelope with Chinese postage on it. It easily fit in my mailbox.

I brought it in and opened it up. I was very surprised to find a nice pink box inside. I’d been expecting the chain in a cheesy plastic bag marked with an inspection number. The box made it suitable for giving as a gift.

When I opened the box, I found the beaded chain inside it on a piece of satin that seemed made just for it. Classy.

And that got me thinking. How do these Chinese companies make money?

First they have to get the materials and labor to create the item they’re selling.

Then they need the fancy box with the satin insert and someone to carefully stow the chain inside it.

Then the box goes into an envelope with a packing slip. A label goes on the outside with postage.

And then someone takes it with countless others to the Chinese equivalent of a post office where it’s shipped thousands of miles. It goes through customs (I assume) and gets sorted into the U.S. postal system. And eventually it makes it to my mailbox.

For $3.56.

Less than the cost of a latte.

How can they possibly make any money on this?