Card Fiascos Leave You Hacked Off

Columnist Len Bourland
Columnist Len Bourland

I’m hacked. In every sense of the word.

My summer was pretty much idyllic until I got an email from Citibank. I was hiking the hills of Santa Fe, admiring the views, loving missing out on some of that triple-digit heat, and enjoying music, friends, the cuisine, even the new Tom Cruise movie, Yet Another Mission Impossible.

The fact that AT&T doesn’t work well in adobe walls in a town that’s wedded to Verizon was even good. Unplugged for the most part. Until that email. Citibank was notifying me (again, as this seems to happen about once every 14 months or so) that a new card was in the mail in order to “protect my security.” Except I wasn’t anywhere near Dallas, and I was pretty much living on this one Citibank AAdvantage Card World Elite in order to get those airline miles for every dollar spent (a lot on vacation).

So I went back to call since I had no idea whether I had been getting charges denied or what. Should I have told them I’d be in New Mexico like I do if I’m in actual Mexico so they won’t think my cards been stolen? Was it a specific charge, and if so, what was it, so I could never shop there again? Mainly, I did not want a new number because it’s a nightmare. So I was perturbed as well as hacked as a cardholder, and resigned to losing my afternoon siesta and reading time.

My initial call to the 800 customer service number, after going through the lengthy menu, was greeted by that unmistakable accent that you’re talking to someone either from the Bangladore call center or the Philippines. I have learned to immediately ask for a supervisor in America. Usually for some reason it’s a person in either Kentucky or Florida.

I began taking notes as to time and names. Another sad fact I have learned through the years — never expect anything to happen as explained. By then, I had my online statement showing four transactions as pending so I assumed the first was the offender, a local gas station. Nope, I was told the hacker could go back as far as seven years! I also noticed a new number was on the statement, which I couldn’t believe since I had neither received a new card nor activated it. Moreover, I had friends check my mail in Dallas three days running.

The supervisor assured me that all charges would seamlessly be rolled to the new number, and because I was such a valued customer, they would overnight the new card to my vacation address. When I asked why I was told they were in the mail but had not been received, I was then told the new cards were being mailed in batches and my batch probably hadn’t been mailed — they had two weeks to get them out. In other words, a ton of people had used this vendor. Was it Target again? Walmart? Tom Thumb? I wanted to know, but their lips were sealed. Three issues remained.

First, I needed to download all my information to my Quicken fast, because from past nightmarish experience, when a new card is activated, the old card number vanishes and all statements disappear. If you activate the new card before you update any online accounting like Quicken, you then have to get old statements mailed and manually input what you need for taxes. Horrible.

Second, the new card was coming at the end of the month over a weekend. So many vendors auto-debit my card at the first of the month, from health insurance to phone and utilities. I needed to wait a few days to activate … the days when my grandchildren were coming to visit. Argh.

Finally, I’d have to go through old statements to remember whom to call, everyone from my newspaper subscriptions to the cleaners to those impossible-to-get-on-the-phone NTTA TollTag people. Then I’d need to go online for Uber, the airlines, Amazon, and more. It would take hours, and even then it didn’t always work, and I will be getting notifications for months — not to mention what a pain trying to merge two cards at tax time would be.

A million years ago when I was in college, Dustin Hoffman starred in the anti-establishment movie classic The Graduate, in which a corporate type told the erstwhile hippie to remember one word for his future: “Plastics.” It was a huge laugh line. Who knew it was prophetic and would mean credit cards? I’m sure this will be quaint in the not too distant future, and we will just charge everything to our phone, no plastic.

Imagine losing your phone then. Gads.

Len Bourland can be reached at [email protected].

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