'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
IDENTIFYING THE IDENTITY THIEVES
Identity theft is a major problem these days. Identity theft occurs when unscrupulous thieves obtain your confidential credit card information and then make unauthorized purchases. It can be quite a shock to open your MasterCard bill, which usually averages, say, $400 each month, and see that your current balance is now over $12,000, with most of the charges being made by a firm called “Madame Lustbury’s House of Pancakes and Massage Parlor,” located in Las Vegas, Nevada.
You have to do some really fast talking to convince the appropriate people that the charges are fraudulent, the least of whom at that point are the credit card company officials, since it is often a guy’s spouse who first opens the credit card statement.
However, I did not realize we also have to be concerned about another group of unscrupulous thieves: the credit card companies themselves who already have our confidential information.
I recently received a letter in the mail from the bank that issued my VISA card. The name of the bank, by the way, is Bank One, and if you can’t remember that name, do a little word association trick: when you think of the phrase “unscrupulous thieves,” think “Bank One.”
Anyway, the letter discussed something about getting “cash back on your gas purchases,” and contained a genuine check payable to me in the amount of five dollars. I knew it was a genuine check rather than one of those coupons made to look like a check because the letter said, “The enclosed check is real. Don’t throw it away.”
Well, I’ve heard about various cash-back and rebate programs, and I figured my credit card must have one of these programs in effect. And since I do a lot of driving, and with the price of gas these days, sending me a $5 rebate check is like a fancy hotel offering a complimentary 4 ounce glass of orange juice to someone paying $300 per night for a room.
So I signed the back of the check, and a few days later brought it to the bank to deposit along with some other checks. Thankfully the bank teller was already aware of this type of scam. She held up the $5 check and said, “Do you really want to do this?”
I replied in my typical erudite manner: “Huh?”
“Did you read the fine print on the back of the check?” she asked.
Again, my rejoinder was profound and insightful. “Huh?”
“See right here, Mr. Dunn,” she explained, pointing to some microscopic words on the back of the check, “It says when you cash this check, you automatically activate your membership.”
“Membership? Membership in what?”
“Well, I’m not sure,” she said, “but they will automatically charge your credit card $9.99 every month.”
“Hmm, let’s see,” I said, trying to do the math in my head. “I can get five bucks right now, but it will cost me ten bucks a month from now on. Hmm…you know what? I don’t think that’s such a good deal.”
“No, Mr. Dunn, it’s not. We had a customer in here the other day,” she said, “who was about to cash a $10 check, but then her credit card automatically would be charged $79.99.”
“Hmm, let’s see,” I said, thinking hard once again. “You know what? I don’t think that’s such a good deal either.”
Let this be a warning. If you receive a genuine check from your credit card company, especially one from “Bank-Unscrupulous-One,” be very careful. If you cash the check you might be signing up for something very expensive.
Then when you get your statement each month and see that unnecessary $9.99 (or $79.99!) charge, it could make you long for the days when the more ethical criminals—the ones who don’t pretend to be honest businessmen—hit you with some Madame Lustbury massage parlor charges.
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