My company has had a well-maintained AMEX merchant account for some years, selling business software and services, with never a single dispute or chargeback or complaint of any kind. Maximum single charge amount (to date) about $9,000.00.
Suddenly we have been denied the ability to accept American Express. Why? ...
In early February 2013, I, as the company CEO received a phone call from a blocked number. The caller claimed to be from American Express and stated they needed certain documents faxed to them verifying our company standing, registration, address, etc. My reaction was that
1/. all such documentation had already been provided at the time of originally signing up with American Express, and
2/. we categorically refused to send semi-confidential documents to anyone on the basis of a mere anonymous phone call, so would they please send their request in writing on company letterhead, or at least send an email. The caller refused and said the company does not do that and said we could verify the authenticity of the call by calling a certain phone no. and navigating through various voice menus to reach a certain department, and ask for a certain individual . etc. etc. To think that I, or anyone would waste time going through such a procedure is ridiculous. I told him I was much too busy, and in this age of spam and phishing and other frauds, he really should know better. End of conversation.
A couple of weeks later we received a letter saying our account was closed. No reason was given.
We called American Express merchant services, who told us they were unable to handle the matter and we had to speak with a special department that handled these matters.
It turns out that this special department is in India, and I ended up having a conversation with someone with a thick Indian accent, who quite frankly had the IQ of a small-appliance bulb, who simply repeated over and over again that our request for documentation had not been complied with. When I asked him repeatedly to simply make the request in writing, he responded repeatedly that they had asked for it by phone and had not received it so the account was terminated. When I told him they were terminating a perfectly good account for no good reason, and with no due process, he just repeated the same thing again. I insisted on speaking to his supervisor, and was placed on hold listening to recorded messages about what wonderful customer service I could expect as an American Express merchant. After ten minutes on hold I hung up.
I called back the American number and explained what had happened. I was told again that I had to speak to India. I asked the agent What is the first word in the name American Express? He thought about it for a moment and then said I guess that would be American . I said Correct. So why must I speak with someone in India? What does this have to do with India? Nonetheless he assured me they were the only ones that could help me.
So I called India again and this time spoke with someone with a little more intelligence, who sympathized with my feelings but told me tough luck thats the way Amex does things and either I comply or my account is closed. I learned from him that AMEX operates a kind of hit squad from somewhere in India (my words, not his) who randomly call merchants in the United States and demand documentation to prove their legitimacy, seemingly obliviousof the fact that this documentation is a pre-requisite for enrollment in the first place, and seemingly oblivious of the fact that in America, people do not send out confidential documents to any Tom d**k or Harry who calls and demands them. If they dont get what they demand, they shut you down.
Do I have such documents? Of course! Will I send them? Of course, if properly requested. Do I even want to reinstate my account with a company that uses such n**i-style, unjustified, unbusinesslike, techniques, and has apparently no respect for its merchants rights? Im not so sure. This may be a matter for my congressman or the FTC. As I recall, it was my tax money that was used to give bailout money to American Express after they rushed to declare themselves a bank in order to avail themselves of the massive free handouts, which they certainly did not need.
For what it is worth here is section 10.3.2.1 of the American Express Merchant Policy manual (edited for brevity). In my humble opinion they are in violation of their own policy, as well as being inviolation of common decency...
"If you are placed in the Consumer Protection Monitoring Program, we will send
you a questionnaire regarding your business practices, and conduct an
We may suspend or refuse to allow Card acceptance at an Establishment, or
terminate the Agreement, if you do not respond to our questionnaire, by the date we designate, with sufficient information about your business practices."
Also for what it is worth here is a quote from the Unites States Secret Service website, reinforcing what we all know already ...
"Never provide personal financial information over the phone unless you are absolutely certain the caller has a bona fide need to know. If necessary, hang up the phone."
So if you were to ask me to rate my opinion of "Indian Express" Merchant Services at the moment, I'm afraid the answer might not be publishable. I would really recommend you do not do business with an organization so unethical and capricious.