Financially Insecure

We all know that new technologies bring new concerns and new opportunities for both confusion and fraud . As a result, financial insecurity has taken on more than one meaning.

It doesn’t take a post-graduate Masters in Business Administration to realize that financial institutions are here to put on the fake smile while finding ways to make money off of their customers.

Take, for example, a bank I did business with until last week. They have a policy of charging a $20 service fee if a transaction does not occur at least once a month in their customer’s checking account. Another bank charges a fee after forty-five days. In the olden days, most banks wouldn’t poke you to see if you were still alive unless half a year went by without activity. As I had an on-line presence with this bank, I noticed the fee one month three months previously. A phone call to customer service explained why I got the inactivity fee. I made a mental note to make sure I remembered every month to make a small transfer between accounts in order to waive the fee.

I noticed, however, last week that despite the presence of these mandatory transactions the past two months in my checking account, I still got hit with the inactivity usage fee. So, I decided it was time to close out the accounts in this bank and move to a new one.

Killing two birds with one stone, I moved the money to a bank where I also have my mortgage. This would now make it more convenient to pay the mortgage. It should have been an easy transition, except that I had to call the tech support people to reset my on-line connection because it was linked to an old mobile phone. (I had an online presence at the other bank because of the mortgage)

Not only was the security link not functional, but the tech support people had to fix it so that my new checking account also displayed. The final insult from the new checking account bank was the two temporary checks I was given to use until the real checks would show up in about ten days. What’s the problem with that? This- if I use either of the temporary checks, there is a two dollar fee per usage.

Finally, this brings us to the last of my escapades with online financial transacting. In this case, a credit card company. For the second time in five months, my credit card was compromised despite the issuance of a replacement number for the first crime. I have to presume that purchases made online with this card from the same two or three vendors that one of them has either a criminal working for them or slipshod processing that leaks information to outside processors.

To minimize the chance of a third occurrence I went to a new credit card issuer that encourages their customers to use virtual numbers when buying from online sources. I recently took advantage and made a purchase. About a week later, I received an email indicating I could go online and review my first statement and not wait for the paper copy that will come at least seven days later. I logged into their site and clicked on the statement section. A message displayed indicating that this feature is not yet available for me but will be soon.

I recently asked a friend what he invested in. He replied, “all my money is tied up in cash.”

Identity Theft

About a week ago in the late evening a text message is buzzed on my old-style flip phone. It asks a simple question: Did I just purchase a pair of athletic shoes for x dollars?” The message is from one of my credit card issuers. It asks me to respond with YES or NO.

I quickly responded with NO. A new text message informs me to give them a call. I do and am connected to the fraudulent activities department. As a double check on what the person will tell me, I immediately log into my account information on-line. It shows two transactions. One for a trifle amount, the other is the one for which I receive the text.
The fraud agent told me not to worry- that he would remove the two phony transactions. He would now put a hold on my card and issue a new number which would be delivered in about a week. I checked again on-line a little bit later and saw indeed that the two phony charges were removed. As promised, a week later I received my new card.

Besides naturally feeling violated, I was also curious to how the credit card company was able to be suspicious of the activity. I asked my brother who is an expert in how financial institutions deal with fraud in credit card processing. I gave him the details of the two phony transactions and he immediately explained how they were catchable. I am not going to reveal what he said as I don’t want to give out information to help those who are on the wrong side of the law.

However, I did learn something that may be helpful to others thinking of ways to minimize having to go through the aggravation and sense of violation I experienced. I mentioned to a friend about the incident. He told me not to be so upset that it happened to him twice in the past- within a year of each other. He said he came across a solution that seems to work well. He found a credit card company that issues virtual ids to the holder- one for each merchant from which he purchases. In other words, if he uses that issuer to purchase from three different stores, he will get three ids- one for each. He also sets an expiration date on how long the id is good. So, the perpetrator is generally not going to know which retailer the id he stole is acceptable for the name on the card.

There is another thing you can do to mitigate the identity theft of a credit card. Make sure than any purchase you enact on line is linked to an email followup approval. This means you have to make sure that the thief doesn’t have your email address and password access to your email.

Sounds like a plan.

I’ll See You in My Dreams

I dream at night that I drive somewhere and when I’m done with whatever I do I can’t remember where my car is or how to get back home.

I’m guessing that an overpaid shrink will say that it is normal for a person in his early social security years to have such a dream. It probably means that I want to look back at the past, would like to somehow go back to its comfort but am stymied because what is past, is gone.

The past is comforting but having the knowledge of how it plays out helps make it easier to endure. That’s the problem going forward for those of us who collect a social security pension and/or are on medicare. We like to think that we can endure what lays ahead but there is always that feeling of looking over our shoulder to see who or what is gaining on us.

Last week I sat in a meeting with a client and two outside consultants regarding their need to acquire a new accounting system. I had been supporting their system for the past thirty years. The system was now insufficient and behind the times. It was time to be replaced with something fancier. There was a sense of relief because I no longer wanted to be responsible on a day-to-day basis to keep their system functioning. I still wanted to be involved in some aspect of the new system, whatever it would be.

One of the other consultants made an offhanded comment late in the meeting, while staring at me, “after all, you are retiring”. Huh? Who said I was retiring- I just don’t want as much responsibility as in the past.

I met this fellow for the first time an hour earlier. The only way he would have made such a statement is because the owner made an offhanded comment to him. How’s that for loyalty? Hey, after designing and supporting customized accounting systems for forty years, I’m entitled to downgrade the responsibilities I want to take on. And hey- the present and future costs money. There’s no comfort in the unknown. As an actor playing a professional athlete once famously said in a movie, “show me the money” and tell me what I have to do.

There’s another aspect to the dream I started with- someone wants to help me find my car and give me directions on how to go home but they also expect to be paid. Everybody wants to get into the act!

An Unexpedited Delivery

by Larry Teren

Ok, so you know me by now- I’m a hot head, a reactionary. But I’ll hold off on how I’m gonna tell this one until I cool down.

An hour has passed. So this is what happened. On the eighth of the month (pick a month) I ordered a pair of socks online. No, not any simple pair that you can buy at Walmarts and save the aggravation. These are relatively expensive compression socks.

I forgot to mention that I placed the order online in the early evening. Anyway, the next morning around 10am I see that an email arrived indicating that one of the colors was backordered and I should let them know if they should ship what they have. So I dialed up their customer service department.

I spoke to a “support” person. I told her to go ahead and send the one pair and when the other was available in a day or two, to send that one as well. After all, it wasn’t going to cost them that much more as I chose the Slow Boat to China free shipping method.

She said I was too late. That I should have been sitting breathlessly at my computer and guessed when her company was going to send an email about availability. ‘Cause now both items were out of stock.

I raged about why they didn’t use their high school education to realize that it was okay to send what they had and backorder the other. She said it was company policy not to. (I think she also meant it was company policy to screw up an order as much as possible. Wait- maybe I wasn’t being fair- maybe they only had a policy to screw up one order a day and I won the lottery.)

So I told them to let it be. When the socks would come into stock, just send them. Obviously a mistake on my part or the story would end here.

A week later, still no socks. In the meantime, I went online and checked out my credit card status and saw that those jamokes billed my credit card even though they never sent anything. So I called the customer service people at the socks place and had the pleasure of speaking to another member of their staff.

I pointed out to her that they had honored me with being the one order in their company they permanently keep on backorder but added insult by billing me for it. Reading from the same script book, she replied. “but it’s company policy, sir”.

I asked to speak to a supervisor who came to the phone after a three minute wait on hold while the customer service clerk gave her my vitals and disposition. Their conversation probably went something like this: “take this call. There’s an as..le on it.”

I explained the issue to the supervisor- the two major flaws in her company’s policy. She apologized and said that the item was backordered. I didn’t call her a liar- okay, i did- sue me. I told her that the items I wanted were popular and could not believe that they allowed the stock to not get replenished for a week. She agreed that the order should have been filled and didn’t know why. (Yeah, sure- she didn’t want to admit I was the lucky permanent backorder customer)

She promised to expedite the delivery by having it shipped directly from the manufacturer. Four days later the items came with a packing slip indicating next day delivery. An email came the next day from the supervisor apologizing once again and that she decided to take the next day off so she didn’t get to my expedited promise until two days later. (Yeah, it’s company policy to take a day off after you promise to expedite the solution to a problem.)

No One Listens

By Larry Teren

The other day a voice in a radio commercial said that no one listens to customers anymore. Ya think?

1. My mother’s land line telephone went out on a Monday night. She called me on her cell phone. I came over and validated that we needed to call the phone company for repair service. I called the repair number, punched in all the requisite information and an automated voice responded indicating that the earliest response time would be Thursday, three days later.

This is the attitude of a major player in land line phone service? To keep a customer waiting for three days to use their service again? I called them the next morning and this time spoke to a human being. I played the senior citizen empathy card explaining to the customer service agent that my mother had a lifeline pendant that tied into her phone service. If no phone, no way would her emergency alert signal work.

That opened the magical door. The agent told me that he would try to push her closer up on the repair wait list. I received an automated call less than a half hour later that a repairman would be out to her place that day. The repairman called me an hour later. I warned my mother of his arrival and within two hours her phone was fixed.

But what about the other customers? Why should anyone have to wait so long to get phone service restored? What happened to customer service?

2. I decided it was time to have a blazer dry cleaned. I went to an establishment that was new to me but in business at that location for several years. I brought the jacket to the young lady working the cash register. She asked for my phone number but I quickly realized she wasn’t asking me out on a date. The next part of the conversation took about two minutes longer than needed because rock music was blasting in the background. I told her that I couldn’t make out half of what she said. She looked at me as if to wonder why I wasn’t in a nursing home where I didn’t have to worry about dressing up.

Next, she asked for immediate prepayment rather than when I returned for pickup. I asked why- she said because sometimes they had to try two or three times to get out stains. If the effort wasn’t a success the customer might not want to pay. So they demanded the money up front.

It must be tough to be in a business where going in you don’t trust most of your customers. Are you listening?

Do Not Call List is a Joke

The Do-Not-Call List is a joke. Telephone communication technology has advanced to the point where it has practically eliminated the abusive prank caller whether it’s 2am or 2pm. You can thank the genius who invented caller id. But it seems as if each step forward has a corresponding step or two backwards. Yes, I’m ranting about about those companies who seem to have permission from the authorities to still harass us.

Continue reading “Do Not Call List is a Joke”

Bank Rupture

by Larry Teren

Harry stopped Friday mid-afternoon in his office, anticipating picking up a nice sized check mailed by a client. He wasn’t disappointed. He quickly went downstairs to the bank on the ground level of the building and waited for the teller to motion him forward. He handed over the deposit slip and the check. The teller looked at the pieces of paper and input his account number into the computer. After staring at the screen for a moment she turned to Harry and said: “sorry, I can’t accept this. Your account is restricted.” Harry asked her to repeat what she said and then for her to explain what that meant. The teller told him to take it up with the bank manager.

The bank manager invited him into her office cubicle and said that his account was restricted and that they didn’t want to do business with him anymore. Harry immediately thought someone had done identity theft and did something illegal with his account. Or, that they felt his business was not worth it as he was too often transferring funds between accounts. He asked for all the money in his three accounts- a business checking, personal checking and “high” savings account (which was only giving out .01 interest). The manager said his accounts were frozen and that she could not give it to him. She did, though, offer to call the fraud department (also known as internal affairs). They commiserated and then put Harry on the phone where the fraud people finally agreed to give him an amount from two of the accounts which came to about a third of his money.

What made this excruciating was that he was given no reason for the “divorce” and Monday would be Labor Day so he would have to wait until Tuesday to pursue the matter further. Nor could he any longer use his debit card or checks. When Tuesday morning finally came, Harry brought an attorney with him to the bank office branch manager. This time she said she was prepared to give him the rest of his money exclusive of keeping open a small amount to make sure that all checks that he had written had cleared. Two days later, he then went back to collect the final amount. At that time, the bank manager said she could now tell him why this was happening as all his accounts were closed. He then asked her if a certain event was what had triggered the parting of the ways. She nodded. So, what happened that caused Harry to encounter bank account restriction? Continue reading “Bank Rupture”

Life With Father

by Larry Teren

Think 1960s, first floor of a two-flat apartment building. It’s summer time and central air is an unheard expression. There are two ways to cool off- go to a show- I mean, movie theater (pronounced by Uncle Henry as thee ay a ter) or take a ride in our pistachio green colored 1964 Rambler with air conditioning. This, of course, limits opportunities of convenience. I mean, what if it’s a sweltering 88 at 9pm on a Wednesday night? No way are we stuffing into the Rambler for a ride.

Scene 1:
Dad to Ma: “Honey, we’re buying a fan.”

Ma: “We have one now and it doesn’t do much. Anyway- can we afford a new one?”

Dad: “I’m tired of the complaints. We’re gonna buy a big fan that fits in the window in the front parlor. And Sam told me that if you put it in reverse and close all the bedroom doors at night, it cools off the house. It sucks all the hot air out. It’s better than suffering.”

Ma: “Well, if you think it’s gonna work, it’s better than what we have.”

I know what you are thinking- how is this going to help anyone sleeping in a bedroom with the door closed and no ventilation? Personally, I don’t care because – I forgot to mention- I’m the odd one out in our four sibling family of three sisters and me. I sleep in the dining room at the other end of the long hallway that connects to the living room and the front parlor.

This budding teenager gets used to being rocked to sleep at night listening to the hum of a large fan going in reverse. I’m convinced that at some point if I get out of bed and walk in the hallway, I’ll be sucked into the front room.

Does the reverse flow help? I’ll put it this way- the next summer dad buys a window slotted air conditioning unit for my parents’ bedroom. Needless to say, we all take turns huddling in the bedroom at any given time. Suddenly, going on freezing car rides no longer is needed. Besides, with the onset of a changing neighborhood, and the airing of NBC Night at the Movies on television, going to the show is not on the list of things to do.

It isn’t easy living in a three bedroom apartment with two parents, four kids plus now a newborn baby and only one washroom. It almost demands that we get up in the morning at staggered times and take care of our business as quickly as possible. And hope that a family member doesn’t have issues that causes one to dread going in next. It also means using the washroom during the day even when you don’t need to- just because.

How many times did any of us hear those words of deep angst while taking a bath- “Open up, I gotta go.” It would mean pulling the shower curtain and having to listen to a symphony not meant for anyone but the music maker himself. Especially when a certain person would add the sensual element of smell to go with sound. In fact, forty years later I still had to convince myself it was okay to use the washroom in my own place with no one around with the door open.

Dad’s favorite expression when he would walk past the bathroom after its use was, “throw the walls out!” and then would proceed to fan the door back and forth for at least thirty seconds. Like that was going to provide instant relief.

We knew the bathroom would be in lock down if Dad ambled by with a rolled up newspaper in hand and say to no one in particular, “if anyone calls, tell them I’m in my office.” Our rallying cry whenever or wherever a noxious drift came upon us was- “Throw the walls out!”

Dad being an insurance salesman looked at anyone and everyone as a prospect. Never too shy to make a pitch. His home was not only his castle but his branch office. He worked the phone at night talking to customers servicing their accounts as well as soliciting new business. A kid had to be careful when he or she picked up the phone in the kitchen in case Dad was on it in the bedroom. We got so good with the light touch to taking the receiver off the hook that we could have grown up to be wire tappers.

None of his kids picked up his graceful phone manners. Maybe it’s because it took a special quality to learn to accept rejection or be on the wrong side of an argument. That reminds me- did I tell you about the time Dad returned a toilet seat after using it for a couple of days?