It is Saturday morning, and it is my birthday and the two, as we are all well aware, are a rare collision. Cold outside but warm under the covers, the phone rings at 8. I pick it up, expecting to hear some early- bird birthday cheer.
Good morning?" I sleepily say into the receiver. A quick talkin' no nonsense automaton with no time for niceties announces itself as the Fraud Department from American Express. Fraud? I sit up. The automated voice reads a list of recent transactions made on my card. I am to press the number 2 if I have not authorized them. I rub my eyes and pay more attention.
The first charge is $1.67 to UPS UK, made three days ago. I yawn and don't think I have mailed anything in Great Britain on Wednesday as I believe I was here in the U.S. on Wednesday and even though I have turned a new decade, I believe I am unlikely to have forgotten my location, but there is no conversation with my personal robot so that we can discuss this, so I press 2. The second charge is to the Stop and Shop. I press 1, thinking about the lasagne I still have to make out of the cheese, pasta, sauce and spinach collected on that charge as my family birthday dinner looms ahead.
Next comes an unkown pending charge to Apple Computer. I don't believe that I have purchased anything from Apple Computer, especially as we are a PC/Apple home and I am the PC, but I can't commit without more information and there is no number for Can't Commit so it is as I am puzzling over that charge that I hear that my card has bought me, or someone posing as me, a $1500 air ticket to Mexico. I press 2 and a human voice shoves the robot aside and offers me a "Good morning." I cannot help but feel a tiny frisson of expectation at the two word combination of "airplane" and "Mexico" on a cold October morning. My family are masters of the practical joke, there is every possibility that this is their roundabout way of offering me a lovely birthday present indeed.
The very nice Amex Fraud Alert Support Person tells me that my card has purchased the poser -me, a nice ticket on AeroMexico and all I need to do is disavow it and they will cancel my card and re-issue another. Now that I have someone besides Robovoice to talk to, I find myself more interested in where the ticket is taking the poser- me, what date and at that price, is it economy or business class, which seat have I chosen and is it one bag or two fare inclusive, but the Fraud Support Person can not tell me any details. He asks me to confirm my card number and I announce that as it is my birthday, and as I am in my warm bed and have no intention of getting out of bed in this very cold house which is not in Mexico in order to retrieve my credit card, he just asks me a few personal details known only to me, but how do we KNOW I am me and not someone who is not only posing as me but has accessed my personal details as well? And how did poser -me Get my card number anyway? Who's the leak? The kid at the gas station on King street? Sly Amazonians at Amazon? I go off on a totally nonsensical thought trail which has that tired lady at Stop and Shop packing for Cancun, and I almost regret calling the card in as she always looks like she needs a vacation.
The Fraud Alert Support Person at Amex while polite and moderately helpful clearly has no interest in the hypothetical. He wishes me Happy Birthday (not in his script so he says it quickly, with an audible smile) and says I will receive my new card within 4-6 business days. Even after hanging up, having agreed to a new card and no heebie jeebies, I have them anyway.
When we were in the UK in September I went to our local bank and informed them that I would be using my ATM card in the UK. The teller did some hocus pocus with a little machine and announced it free to use. I do this ceremony regularly now, having been locked out of my card twice, once in Istanbul and once in Scotland. What my local bank does not tell me is that I can only use my card when it is "in my presence" which means I cannot use it to book a hotel on line or order a great deal saddlepad to have sent to our last stop. i do not know how anyone will be able to tell if my card is actually in My presence, or poser- me's presence but a human body is definitely required. This means that in order to do online, I have to use my fallback Master Card as the UK is very anti-Amex (which is rather hilarious actually as my Amex card is with Virgin Atlantic) and when we return from our trip I have three anxious phone calls from Master Card about suspicious activity on my card.
Although it is nice to know that while all these credit card companies who may be single handedly keeping the US Postal Service afloat, send reams of "you have been pre-approved" ways to spend money I don't have, which I believe may have paid no small part of what seems still to be chronic World Wide Recession; are looking out for both me and poser-me with nearly the same tenacity that the CIA hunts terrorists, it is inconvenient and very nearly defies the why of credit cards rather than cash anyway. It is almost ironic later in the week when I receive a thick letter on creamy paper from my local bank informing me that they, or a third party branch of they, have inadvertently sent all of my details to another third party, including any online payments to credit card companies from my checking account but not to worry, the last third party down the line burned it all. The letter says I am now enrolled by my local bank as a way of softening their glitch in a free year of Identi-Safe which sounds like a witness protection program, and encourages me to call if I have any questions. I do, so I call and recount the curious coincidence of this inadvertent leak on my bank's part and my Amex card having purchased a ticket to Mexico. My local bank assures me that there is no possibility of this and yes, isn't that a coincidence ha, ha.
So all this leaves me with a few observations.
2. When we go to Ireland in a few weeks, will card after card lock down? Will it be like Istanbul when we looked at the lifeless little pieces of plastic standing between us and our next meal ?
3. If poser-me uses our card to buy a ticket to Mexico, which one of us gets the airmiles?