Going paperless - priceless!

For months, a large retailer emailed me twice a day, begging me to switch from paper billing to online billing. If only I would go paperless, my hair would grow back rich and thick, my sciatica would go away, my plantar fasciitis would heal itself, my cats would stop shedding, and my chance of heavenly reward would rise. OK, fine. I’ll sign up, just please stop sending me your stupid emails.

So the emails ended; contentment reigned. The paper bill stopped coming. I was saving trees and saving a giant corporation postage each month, plus the cost of paper and envelopes. My hair started to grow a little. It was a win/win situation. Life was good.

About a month later, while paying some bills, it occurred to me that I hadn’t gotten one from the giant retailer, a store whose name is a household word. I’d totally forgotten I had signed up for paperless billing. But how do I get a bill? Where do I send the money? I went online to find out why the company hadn’t sent me a bill by email. My payment was due.

“When were they going to send me a bill?” I asked the woman on the phone.

“You told us to stop the emails, sir.”

“Yes, but I meant the annoying emails you kept sending me to tell me that you wanted me to sign up for the ease and convenience of paperless billing. If you don’t send me a bill in the mail and you don’t send me one by email, how am I supposed to pay the bill?”

“Give me your bank account number and we’ll take it directly out of your checking account.”

Yes, that would be convenient – for them. For me, not so much. Do they not read the papers? Every day some giant conglomerate gets hacked and millions of customers are told, “Customer information has been compromised. Check your bill to be sure no unauthorized charges have been made to your account.”

Last week my power company got hacked. The week before, it was a grocery chain. My bank or this gigantic, household-name retailer will surely be next. Why the power company had to know my Social Security number and date of birth, I’ll never know. Is it afraid an impostor will come in and pay my bill for me?

“Well, if you want, we’ll email you each month and remind you to pay the bill,” my customer service representative finally said, not sounding at all happy about it.

“If it’s not asking too much, yeah, I think that would work.”

I’m not kidding, this is a gigantic company with stores in every town in the country. It issues its own credit cards; its CEO paid himself a gazillion dollars last year. Where it gets the money to pay him if it doesn’t send out bills is a puzzlement.

According to the website, my payment was due the next Tuesday. It was Saturday, New Year’s Eve, and Monday was officially a holiday. There was no way the giant retailer was going to get my check by Tuesday, but I sent it anyway.

Sure enough, two weeks later I got an email from the company. A $25 late fee had been tacked onto my new bill. Just its way of saying “thank you” for going paperless, I guess. Suddenly it became clear where the money to pay the CEO was coming from. While on hold waiting to speak with another service representative, I cut up the company’s card into many small pieces.

The good news is that the company quickly removed the charge. And I see its stock price hit a new low this month. Must be I’m not the only one who switched to paperless billing.

Jim Mullen’s book “Now in Paperback” is now in paperback. You can reach him at jimmullenbooks.com.

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