Getting away with shopping

I received a call from my credit card company the other day telling me there was some “unusual activity” on my account. Hmmm, 12 65-inch plasma TVs, 18 iPhones, 22 Xbox games, 900 gallons of diesel fuel, several gold chains, $6,000 worth of NFL memorabilia and a box of blueberry bagels. Whoa! Blueberry bagels? Maybe that was the “unusual activity” they were talking about. That must have been the tipoff. Anyone who knows me knows I only eat plain bagels.

Or was it the fact that all this stuff was bought in a city a thousand miles from my home in a single 15-minute period? All in the same store? Even with a list it would take me longer than that. I’ve spent longer than 15 minutes buying cat food ... and these guys are getting plasma TVs? Have you ever tried to put 900 gallons of diesel in a cart? Knowing me, I’d get it all in one cart and then find out one of the wheels was square and have to put it all in another.

Could it be that in the 15 years I’ve had that card I’ve never charged more than a few hundred dollars on it that tipped them off?

“Has your card been lost or stolen?” they asked.

“No, here it is, right in my wallet, where it’s sat unused for the last two years.”

“Don’t use it,” they said, “Until we send you a new card.” Fine, I wasn’t using it anyway, a couple days without it won’t hurt. It seems, however, they forgot to tell the criminals not to use it. Today they bought seven laptops, 52 copies of “Grand Theft Auto,” a set of tires for a car I do not own, and several $20 purchases from the same gas station seconds apart.

No, my identity hasn’t been stolen, this is simple, old-fashioned, high-tech thievery. Besides, no one wants my identity. I could put it out with the trash and no one would take it. They want someone with more money and more credit. The good news is that I don’t have to pay a dime for all the stuff they bought, the credit card company will pass the loss along to their cardholders by raising their interest rates. So, maybe I will have to pay a dime, but so will you, so it all evens out, right?

What really sticks in my craw (and don’t ask me what a craw is) is that criminals have such an easy time charging things when half the time I can’t buy things with my own credit card without some little hassle. From “The machine can’t read your card, the tape must be dirty,” to “Type in your zip code,” to “Type in your pin number,” to “Sorry, the computer must be down today.” Why isn’t the computer ever down when the criminals want to use it? Why is it that if I tried to buy just one $6,000 plasma TV with my own credit card, that I don’t think they’d give it to me without at least getting my signature on the receipt.

Of course, my signature on the receipt may as well be a paw print. No one cares. No one even looks at it. For a few weeks I signed everything with a big “X” like I was a pirate signing up to sail with Bluebeard. Not one waiter, not one waitress, not one store clerk even looked at the receipt. No one called me on it.

I was in line at a drug store a few days ago and the cashier stopped the guy in front of me and said, “You didn’t sign this card.” He took it back, signed it and handed it back to her and she completed the sale. No doubt, that broke every rule of credit card protocol and somebody at Credit Card Central will have a conniption fit reading about it. “You should have confiscated that card, anybody could have signed it! You should be fired.”

Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how bored Credit Card Central seemed to be about the 12 missing plasma TVs as if to say, “Oh, that! Don’t worry about it, it happens all the time.”

I’m afraid it does.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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