Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Credit Card Blues

“Because your name and card number are on file with us, it is possible that your card information has been compromised. While we employ the strongest encryption processes, it is possible that a motivated and persistent hacker could access your information. For this reason, we suggest that you inform your credit card company and explore the possibility of closing your current card and starting another.”

I don’t even have a pit in my stomach this time when I get this message. This is our third change in one year on one card. One of the changes was due to our card company shifting its business to another company, but two were due to possible compromises of our information, which had nothing to do with anything we had done except to use our credit card.

In Saturday’s paper, we read that there has been a huge shift in the restaurant business. An owner said that ten years ago cash customers and credit card customers were about 50/50, but now, 90% of all customers use credit cards. (We’re in the 10% who use cash, but it’s because of all our years living overseas.)

The new cards have arrived, and I spent the day going to all the sites that bill me automatically, and monthly, and to my car rental people, and airline reservations people . . . all those automatic charges that would bounce if I didn’t get the correct new number to them. Even as I am sending out all this information, I cannot help but be aware that 1) It is the companies storing my information that make me so vulnerable, and 2) in some cases, there are no alternatives. Credit cards are the accepted way of paying these days.

It’s been a long journey. I remember my first eye-opening experience; I was back from Qatar, re-opening a mobile phone account and I handed the sales person a hundred dollar bill, and she just gaped. “No one ever pays in cash anymore,” she said, “I don’t even know what to do!” As it turned out, they didn’t have change, so I had to charge it, but it went against my grain – we use our cards, but selectively, and pay them off in full every month.

And we only really use one card. We have a couple back ups, but we never use them.

I can’t help but feel that we are all increasingly vulnerable by our reliance on the credit card system. Hackers are the least of the problem – I also worry about those heaps of paragraphs in 2 pt type that we have to ‘read’ and sign, because do you really read them? I know I scan them, but there are words in those agreements designed (I believe) to make you tired of reading, big words, lots of them strung together. They probably have some meaning, but although I am not stupid, reading financial disclosure statements makes my head spin.

What kind of vulnerability do we have to our banks with these cards?
What are our obligations that we don’t even know about?

While we were waiting for our cards, I had three pre-orders with that failed. I wrote to them, suggesting that because I was a good customer, a shareholder, and a faithful buyer with them almost from the very beginning, that maybe they could send them anyway (especially the new Song of Ice and Fire volume by George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons,) but no, they would not. This is not the I used to know, who sent me a coffee cup for being a faithful customer, back in 1997. No, I had to zip up the road to Barnes and Noble, the old fashioned way.

On the other hand, our mail-order-pharmacy people were just great. I had an automatic order and when I explained the problem and that we were waiting for our new cards to arrive, the customer service lady just laughed and said “We’ll send it out and bill you later.” How very very civilized. (ExpressScripts – YAYYYYY)

I used to know my credit card number by heart. We had the same card for almost 20 years. I even memorized my next card, but not this one. I have little faith it will be good for all that long.

July 19, 2011 Posted by | Books, Communication, Crime, Customer Service, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Shopping, Social Issues | 3 Comments