Up Front: March 2009

Got his number

Not that I’m tight, but while some executives fret over whether they can muddle along on $500,000 a year, I fail to understand spendthrifts who throw away dental floss they’ve used only once. So it seems that somebody is forever trying to separate me from what little money I do have. A few Sunday mornings ago, my voice mail was blinking when I came home from a walk. The message began: “This is Wachovia Fraud Detection … “

My finger shook as I dialed the number. “Visa debit card? Well, yes sir, I have it right here in my pocket. Uh, no sir, I haven’t used it today. No sir, I never heard of Yahoo HotJobs.” I began to stutter. The man on the other end of the line filled out forms and hung up.

It wasn’t even time for lunch, and somebody using my Visa number had hit me up for $3,175. I felt a pang of pity for the fellow. After all, it was Sunday morning. Poor guy, desperate for a job, mortgage due, starving kids. Then I looked up HotJobs. You don’t pay to search for a job — you pay to post help-wanted ads. With all that hiring, plus the iTunes purchase the investigator mentioned, this guy was putting together a stimulus package on my dime. I hope they hang the sorry …

This wasn’t my only recent tussle with the financial system. As I related in this column in November, I got worried about Wachovia and withdrew most of my money on the Friday afternoon before the weekend, as we’d later learn, that the bank nearly collapsed. I didn’t mean to start a run on it, honest. In December, I described how hard it is for the world to allow me to get along without a credit card. I’ve never had one. My Visa debit card is my grudging concession to using plastic.

I figured it would be nice to order stuff online, so, suspicious soul that I am, I opened an account with a couple thousand bucks just for that. I was feeling validated Sunday, but then I wondered how someone stole my number. I use the card only at respectable places such as Macy’s and Nordstrom and a few large, established online retailers.

Now I’ve got mixed feelings. I had to sign an affidavit that I didn’t spend the money myself, but I won’t be out a penny. How they detected the fraud so quick dazzles me. Everyone tells me Yahoo HotJobs didn’t fit my spending profile. When I snooped around later, I found that credit-card abuse nationally declined from 3.6% of transactions in 2000 to 1.4% last year, thanks in part to cyber cops like my guy on the phone. But the dollar amount — $3.6 billion in 2008 — is whopping, due mostly to increased Internet retailing

On the other hand, the whole thing makes me wonder what all folks can figure out about me with their computers. And I’m convinced that whoever said a fool and his money are soon parted had me in mind. I won’t even know we’re saying goodbye.