By Lynn Ashby 19 Dec. 2011
YA GOTTA GIVE ‘EM CREDIT
THE PHONE – “You say you were in Texas last Thursday. But our records show you were also in Illinois. How can you be in two places at the same time, putting charges from the XXX Adult Movie Store in Waco and the Sports Stop in Moline?” the credit card lady asks over the phone.
“I was in the Sports Stop in Waco,” I whine. “Why would anyone want to go to Illinois?” What has obviously happened is that someone is ringing up charges on my credit account. Again? You may recall a year or so ago someone was going around East Texas running up huge bills in my name and driver’s license number. I figure they got that last info from a casino in Louisiana. Those poker parlors are about the only places that ask for driver’s license numbers.
Then last December someone picked my wallet at a Houston Texans game – the only offensive play the Texans had that day. Now it seems my credit card number is being pushed across counters in the Midwest. Not the card itself, just its numbers. I’ll bet the alleged perpetrator stole the numbers from one of those catalogue companies we use every holiday shopping season (January-December). We charge from Land’s End to the Waikiki Surf & Shark Shop. Somewhere along the way our card number must have stopped in Illinois.
So once more I am forced to change credit card numbers. Not the company, not the password nor address nor anything but just the numbers. The credit account I use, House O’ Cards, is quite efficient. But, like you, I have several companies that automatically put their charges on my card: electric bill, phone bill, ransoms and kickbacks. That requires that I call each one of them and give them my new number. Good luck with that.
“If you want to speak in English, press one. For Spanish, dos, for hrvatski jezik go back to Zagreb. All our agents are busy right now (we have two and one’s home sick), but you can use our options. If you want to pay your electric bill, press 1, if you don’t want to pay your bill, press 2 for a disconnect and 3 for Vito the Enforcer to visit you some night. Press 4 for all other options but there aren’t any.” We can’t speak to people at businesses over the phone anymore. However, when calling the cell phone company, after three hours of pressing various numbers, getting more recordings and being put on hold, I finally got a live person
“Thank you for calling Cellular Dwellers. My name is Howard. Actually, it’s not, but we’re supposed to say that. You told a recording that you wanted to change your credit card number. Why? Maxed out the old one? I see you’re using House O’ Cards. Boy, your credit must be just this side of Italy’s. I’ll need your password, which for us is always Kickapoo. It’s easier to remember if we just have one.”
After an agonizing and unproductive conversation with Howard, who had the IQ of a shovel, I was transferred to his supervisor, who could match wits with a hoe. It was as though no one in the company’s history had ever changed credit card numbers. “I don’t think anybody has ever changed their credit card number,” the supervisor said.
In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau determined that there were nearly 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the U.S. A stack of all those credit cards would reach more than 70 miles into space — and be almost as tall as 13 Mount Everests. How many credit cards do you have? If you are the average cardholder, you have three. The average household has five. Like you, I have cut down on the number, mainly because I don’t need a different card for every gas station. No one can agree on how much the average cardholder owes.
Here’s a sign of the times. Some 29 percent of respondents in a recent survey reported they do not have a credit card. That was a more than 10 percent increase from June 2009. Obviously in this economy a lot of us got rid of our cards. It reminds me of the guy who performed plastic surgery on his wife. He shredded her credit cards. Another reflection of our recession is that credit card use has sunk nearly 19 percent since September 2008, the height of the financial crisis.
College students have long been targets for credit card pushers. Some 84 percent of undergraduates have credit cards, and the average undergrad has $2,200 in credit card debt. Additionally, they will amass almost $20,000 in student debt, mostly tuition. Of the students with cards, about 65 percent pay their bills in full every month, which is higher than the general adult population. Half of college undergraduates had four or more credit cards in 2008.
It got so bad that in 2010 Congress passed a law banning credit card companies from issuing cards to people under the age of 18. If you’re under 21 years old, you need an adult cosigner to get a card, unless you can prove that you have the financial means to pay your bill. Good luck on that point. Incidentally, we’ve been discussing credit cards, but 80 percent of consumers currently own a debit card, compared to 78 percent who own a credit card and 17 who own a prepaid card.
My final call is to the power company before they cut off my electricity. “Thank you for calling the Lite Light Company. You pressed 76, which is ‘Other.” All our agents are busy with other — other customers’ complaints, but if you’ll just wait for.…”
Finally I get a real person. “Hi, caller. I yam Peggy Sue. How help can I?”
My explanation, plus slow repetitions, lasts 45 minutes. The next day they cut off my electricity.
Ashby is carded at email@example.com