AMEX has done the impossible – it has eclipsed CapitalOne as the laziest and/or stupidest financial services company in the US. How you might ask? The short answer is: refusing to process as "suspicious" a $ 250 donation to The National Health Law Program.  As described on its web site, "NHeLP protects and advances the health rights of low income and underserved individuals. The oldest non-profit of its kind, NHeLP advocates, educates and litigates at the federal and state level."

The longer story is as follows. Advocacy groups cleverly came up with the idea of Giving Tuesday as a follow on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So, the email inbox today included requests for donations from a range of groups. For example, requests from highly suspicious groups (sarcasm intended), including:

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Lynn Sage Foundation for breast cancer

Imerman’s Angels, peer support for persons with cancer

NHeLP – health insurance advocacy for low income persons

Normally I am a planned giver, but NHeLP’s message stood out because the email stated that an anonymous donor was going to match all monies taken in today by NHeLP. And, the day at our office today started with my wonderful paralegal talking about her friend with widespread ovarian cancer and no health insurance (but a kind doctor performed surgery to remove the tumor despite the lack of insurance). So, out came my personal AMEX card and my wonderful assistant agreed to process the donation for me while I ran off  to a lunch. Oddly, however, she said the card kept being rejected, for no apparent reason. 

As it turns out, AMEX refused to process the $250 donation transaction – on Giving Tuesday –  was viewed as "suspicious." How do I know that? Because on returning from lunch, my cell phone held  a voicemail message from AMEX’ card security group. 

The message asked me to call back because of "suspicious activity" on my card. So, I called back, and got a wrong number (see more on that below). Anyway, after that, I finally reached AMEX’ security group. After wading through layers of voicemail prompts, a human came on the line. After time wasting preliminaries he finally explained that the  transaction was rejected by AMEX because it was viewed as suspicious. It is suspicious, he said,  because it was  processed through a commercial credit card processing service known as Braintree.  According to the person I spoke with at the "security group" at American Express, Braintree is a "known" source of fraud.  I looked Braintree up online and it is a commercial card processor.  So,I asked the AMEX  person for specifics about why Braintree and NHeLP are so suspicious. Not surprisingly, he refused to provide any speficis and refused to provide his name and/or some other identifier, and refused to provide any of the information. 
 
Worse yet are the excuses for stupidity, and the backing and filling. During our call, the young man admitted he and the security group  had no idea it is "Giving Tuesday," and he had no idea that NHeLP is a charity.   After I (not politely) explained that NHeLP is a charity, he shifted to a new excuse. He said AMEX also was suspicious because the day before, a $12.95 charge was processed for the renewal of my membership in JibJab, a national e-card service I’ve used for some years.  Gosh, what could be more suspicious?
 
Of course I asked for a supervisor. After 5 minutes of holding, the message came back: "they are all busy."  Supposedly a "supervisor" was going to call me back "shortly."  But that was well over 90 minutes ago, and no one has called.  
 
Back to that wrong number, and the idiocy of American Express.  As noted earlier, this little fiasco came to my attention  because I received a voicemail message  from AMEX  (I still have the message recorded.)  The message asked me to call the AMEX security group back at 800-824-9281.  However, when one dials that number, the phone is answered by a very nice woman.  When I apologized for having mis-dialed, she asked if I was trying to reach American Express security group.  I said yes. She proceeded to tell me that the correct phone number actually is 800-824-9289.  She also said that she has had MANY calls but AMEX fails to fix the problem. 
 
In my opinion, AMEX now is the hands down winner for the award as the laziest and stupidest of the large financial services company in the US.