Tuesday, July 4, 2017

DON'T BANKS GIVE OUT FREE TOASTERS ANY MORE?



I have two debit cards: one I use all the time, and one I use only on rare occasions – like when my dog tried to play tag with a porcupine and then needed $3,000 worth of surgery to remove all of the quills from her face.

A couple months ago, the debit card I frequently use got hacked by someone overseas who used it for a trip to the Bahamas – and five Domino’s pizzas. I had to be issued a new card with a new number, and then I spent countless hours changing the card number at every place that kept my card on file for automatic payments. It was an experience that was about as enjoyable as running naked through a field of poison ivy.

So last Sunday, when I stopped at an ATM and decided to finally use my rarely used debit card, I was less than pleased when “Denied -Unauthorized User” flashed on the screen. My first thought was, “Nooo!  Not this card, too!  I just got the other one straightened out! I don’t want to go through that again!”

The minute I got home, I called one of my bank’s branches that is open on Sundays and asked why I suddenly was unauthorized to use my own debit card.

“I’m really sorry, but I can’t help you,” the employee said. “Your account has been locked, and I can’t access it. You should call the 1-800 number on the back of your card.”

So I hung up and called the 1-800 number…or should I say I tried to call it. My phone suddenly had no dial tone. The words, “on hold.” flashed on my phone’s screen.

I immediately suspected the bank accidentally had left me on hold and that’s why I wasn’t able to get a dial tone. The only problem was I couldn’t call the bank to tell them they’d left me on hold…because I had no dial tone.

I have one of those cheap, disposable cell phones I carry with me in case of an emergency, otherwise I’m not much of a cell-phone user. For one thing, where I live, out in the middle of nowhere, I have to climb a tree and then hang by my ankles before I can get cell-phone reception, so my house is equipped with only old-fashioned land lines.

But having no other choice, I grabbed my cell phone and headed outside, thinking all the while that every second I wasted could mean someone in Bora Bora was using my debit card to buy a side of beef for his annual family barbecue.

I walked to the top of a hill where my phone finally was able to get a signal and called the 1-800 number on the back of my debit card. I figured I would deal with the dial-tone situation in my house later on. At that moment, getting my debit card straightened out had to take priority.

I was put on hold for 22 minutes. By then, the mosquitoes had just about drained me of all my blood, and the sun had fried my skin the equivalent of beef jerky.

When a human voice finally answered, I was so excited, I practically danced a jig …that is, until the employee crisply told me I had to physically go to my nearest bank to find out anything about my debit card.

By then, I had wasted most of a perfectly good day doing nothing but dealing with banks.

I got into my car and headed toward the nearest bank branch that was open on Sunday. The customer-service representative greeted me cheerfully and asked how she could help me.

I frowned at her. “I’ve been denied access to my debit card and I think it’s probably been hacked. I’ve spent the last two hours trying to find out if I’m right.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” she said. “Have a seat and let me find out what is going on.”

I sat and watched her stare at her computer screen for several long seconds. Suddenly, an expression that could be described only as a look of, “Uh, oh! This is not good!” crossed her face.

She laughed nervously and said, “It appears that when your other debit card was hacked a couple months ago and the bank put a freeze on it, they accidentally froze this card, too.”

“Fine,” I said. “Then just unfreeze it and I’ll be on my way.”

The “uh, oh!” look on her face grew deeper. “I can’t unfreeze it,” she said. “I will have to issue you a new card and a new number.”

I couldn’t hide the fact that her words really had upset me. Well, actually, by that point, I didn’t even try to hide it.

Her smile was weak, at best. “But the good news is I can make up a new card for you right now, with no waiting.”

“Great,” I muttered in a monotone.

“I feel SO bad about this,” the employee said, “and I really want to make it up to you. I mean, I know what an inconvenience all of this must be, especially on a long holiday weekend. Tell you what – we’re having a big July 4th giveaway here, with raffles and prizes. Officially it doesn’t start until tomorrow, but let me get go get you a prize - something nice to make up for all of this.” 

She disappeared out back, while I sat there thinking of what my prize might be. I recalled the days back when banks used to give out toasters or portable radios to people who opened accounts.

“I can always use a new toaster,” I said to myself, suddenly feeling a little less upset about the whole debit-card fiasco.

The employee returned, a bright smile on her face.

“Here you go,” she said, handing me two emery-board fingernail files with the bank’s logo on them. “And again, I do apologize for the inconvenience.”

I stared at the two emery boards and suppressed the urge to burst out laughing. Instead, I said, not even realizing it was loud enough for her to hear, “Gee, too bad these aren’t sharper – I’d use one to slit my throat!”

She gave me a deer-in-the-headlights kind of look that caused me to laugh out loud. She honestly looked relieved when I did.

So I headed home with my brand new debit card and my two new emery boards. And when I entered my kitchen, I gave the evil eye to my 10-year-old toaster I’d been certain was going to be replaced with a shiny new one.

I would have called the bank’s main office to complain…but I didn’t get my dial tone back until the next afternoon. It turned out to be a flaw with the phone lines due to a bad thunderstorm in some other town, not because the bank had left me on hold, as I’d originally thought.

Actually, it’s too bad it turned out not to be the bank’s fault. Otherwise, I might have been able to get another reward or prize for the inconvenience – something really special, like a purse-sized pack of tissues.

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