I love PayPal. It’s very convenient for both making and receiving payments. That’s especially true for international payments. Australian banks charge such hefty fees if I want to cash a check from the US, and, amazingly in this day and age, even direct credit into my account, from American clients, has proved to be a real pain for them and for us. PayPal is so convenient and its fees, as far as I’m concerned, are very reasonable.

But from recent experience I can attest that, if you are travelling out of your own country, using PayPal can be problematic. And I’m not talking about trying to move a lot of money. An attempt to make a ten dollar payment in Las Vegas led to my account being suspended.

As regular readers will know, I live in Australia. In November last year I travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, to speak at and participate generally in the BlogWorld and New Media Expo. While there, I visited the stand for the International Blogging and New Media Association (IBNMA). They had a terminal there where I could join and make a payment, via PayPal, of the special introductory rate of $10. Neat, I thought, and went ahead. It appeared that my payment had been accepted, but when a few days later, from where I was staying in Connecticut, I went to check on progress with an anticipated payment to me of a significantly larger sum, I got the screen message that my account had been suspended.

Las Vegas at night, downtown

(Photo, Las Vegas at Night, Copyright by Suzie Cheel, Nov 2007)

After a lot of sleuthing, I finally found a phone number – ostensibly in Australia but curiously it always seemed to go through to someone in the US – and got some clarification.

It appeared that my accessing my account in Las Vegas had triggered – and as far as I could ascertain, automatically and without direct human intervention – the suspension of my account. There was a kind of logic to it: I was normally resident in Australia, so if my account was being accessed in Las Vegas that made it automatically suspicious.

It wasn’t impossible, as it turned out, to get the suspension lifted, just extremely difficult. After a couple more days and a lot of time spent on phone calls, I was able to get the suspension lifted. To have achieved that with less fuss, I would have had to be carrying or able to access not only a government-issued ID, such as my passport or driver’s licence, but also a utility bill that showed where I lived. Who carries a utility bill when they travel overseas?

I understand the need for security and certainly don’t want my account accessed by other people. But with our main bank in Australia and other credit card providers we were able to let them know before departure that we would be travelling and where, so there would be no surprises. PayPal evidently does not have any provision for such an arrangement.

Indeed, in extended discussions with the PayPal people, after the suspension, I established unequivocally that for any future trips overseas, if I attempted to access my PayPal account from the other country, it would be suspended again.

We now think that if we have the various documents in image form on the Web or on a travelling hard drive or flash drive, we might be able to manage the “un-suspending” process. Frankly, I’m not planning to test it.

So with apologies (sort of) to that other giant provider of financial transaction facilities for international travellers, one of my mottos now is “PayPal: Don’t Leave Home With It”.

By the way, if you think $10 is too small an amount to trigger an account suspension, would you believe 1c? Yes, an attempt the other day to make a one cent payment via PayPal for an online promotional offer resulted in the payment going through and then the account being suspended. I don’t know the thinking there and I don’t have the inclination to phone PayPal and hold on interminably in the hope of finding out.

The positive aspect of all this, and it is only fair that it be noted, as I have indicated previously, is that PayPal is taking the security of accounts seriously. I do understand that there are a lot of bad people out there doing very cunning things to relieve the rest of us of our hard-earned.

But is it too much to ask that PayPal could think about a way to be more helpful to those of us who travel internationally and want to avail ourselves of PayPal’s services when we do that?

Any suggestions for a more effective way of doing things will be very welcome.

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