Global Citizen

I heard a baby crying in a foreign land this morning, and I’m feeling like a true global citizen. It was an unexpected pleasure.

My insurance company, we’ll call them “Hugnem” for the purpose of this discussion, wasn’t getting any of my money. Funny, how a claim can take weeks to process but a “past due” notice gets processed in hours. I called Hugnem because I was unable to login to their website to change my billing information.

My billing information needed changing because someone in Mississippi, not me, bought gas at a truck stop on the same day “not me” purchased something for over $600 at the Corporate Depot store in Blairsville. Funny how that purchase was made when someone manually entered my credit card number into a point of sale device. And they say customer service is dead.

I could do a commercial here for the credit card security people at USAA who nipped this problem in the bud. It could have been a lot worse. It’s bad enough when you have to change your billing information. It’s worse when you have to do that in some unknown part of the world on the other side of the planet.

My plan was to use Hugnem’s automated phone system to pay my balance, and then call tech support to see why I couldn’t login to my account. Hugnem’s phone system picked up and prompted me for my account number and zip code.

When I entered the zip code, the phone rang again. Another automated voice prompted me for exactly the same information. After I entered that, the phone rang again…and rang….and rang. No one ever picked up, so I hung up and started over.

Same procedure all the way to ring…ring and ring some more. Lather, rinse, repeat. On my fifth attempt, success! Someone picked up, but they didn’t say anything or respond to my “hello?” That’s when it happened. I heard the baby crying in the background.

On my 6th attempt I reached a human being. (I’m sure the baby was also human but she wasn’t taking any calls.) The customer service professional was genial, actually very charming – and almost impossible to understand with a very heavy accent through a static inducing headset. We had a difficult time understanding each other, but after about 10 minutes we did discover that she couldn’t help me, so she transferred me to someone else.

The phone rang and I went into a queue, where I got to listen to an entire piano sonata. Twice. I think it was Scarlatti, which was actually rather pleasant. Eventually someone answered, again, very hard to understand with a bad headset, but also very nice.

This customer service professional was very happy to help me with my problem. She wanted my social security number to identify me, and my bank account and routing number to accept my payment.

It is to laugh, and when I finished doing that I asked her if she was working at home. She was. I said, “Can you transfer me to tech support? I’d prefer to do this online.”

A couple of sonatas later I reached an adept technician in Chattanooga who quickly reset my online account, and I was able to delete the old suspended credit card number and pay my $75 bill. Time invested: one hour and twenty minutes. Considering what my time is worth, I’m thinking of sending Hugnem a bill for the difference.

Last week we heard from a friend whose elder parents discovered over $30,000 missing from their bank account. Someone had hacked into their account or stolen their credentials in order to transfer the money out. The bank covered the loss, but someone will have to pay for it.

Someone will also pay for my traveling credit card and the millions lost to fraud every year, and we all know that won’t be the banks or their stockholders. Neither will it be the insurance companies and other corporations that have outsourced their financial transactions to nurseries and living rooms across the globe. A friend told me recently that he had a similar experience on the phone attempting to pay a bill, and while he was waiting for the customer service professional to pull up his account he heard chickens in the background. Chickens.

With a couple of decades of IT experience under my belt, I consider myself reasonably savvy when it comes to modern financial transactions. I protect our computers with top tier security software, firewalls and a VPN. We use Paypal and similar services online as much as possible – which gives us another layer of protection. Most of our bills are tied to a card which never leaves the house. We have a card that we use only for fuel, since gas stations are notoriously insecure. Yet even with all these precautions, we’ve been hacked twice – locally – in the last 6 months.

Thievery has become more sophisticated. We can never know, and they don’t know either, when a trusted business has been compromised through their own network. Physical devices for skimming cards are still out there, but they are no longer needed when information can be stolen by hacking into a store computer without ever setting foot on the property.

Our precautions minimized our trouble: Security software, virtual private networks, and secure payment services like Paypal or Amazon Pay are helpful. Most banks that have an online service will also cut and mail checks to your creditors. If you can, set aside a card that you only use for recurring bills. Don’t carry multiple cards in your wallet, and use the protective sleeves that thwart proximity skimmers. Check your credit card activity daily, and you can even setup text or email notifications that trigger every time a transaction is made. Cash is also still legal tender, despite global citizen efforts to eliminate it.

We’re not advocating anyone, especially our elders, start carrying large amounts of cash to pay their bills. There is still plenty of old fashioned thievery out there. The precautions we mentioned will certainly reduce the chances of being hacked, but they will not eliminate it. Finally, salt every request for your information with common sense, especially when that request comes with crying babies and cackling chickens.

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