Windy windy days in California lately. When I walk through the entry vestibule on my way into work it’s like being sucked through a wind tunnel (whatever that’s like, the phrase just seemed to fit). The decorative dusty-purple plum-cherry trees that line the long sidewalk up to the sawmill are losing their fruits to the gusts, the concrete littered with them, both whole and smashed flat. I didn’t even know those trees made fruit, but I jumped up to grab and eat one just to see what it was like. Not bad, tart.
Tonight I called to cancel our old United credit cards by “folding” them into our new ones (read over here about why we upgraded). Usually, I do all things related to our credit cards – I call once for myself, and then when I’m finished I call right back and impersonate Sharaun. No, I don’t affect a faux-female voice or anything, I just call and say my name is Sharaun. I’ve been doing this for years and years and never once has any credit card company called me on it. I always figured that sex wasn’t one of the immediately visible pieces of personal information the representatives are presented with when verifying they are indeed speaking to the true cardholder. This time around through, I got cold-busted. And, what’s more, I was put through the security wringer in the craziest Orwellian data-mining checkout process I’ve ever participated in. The recount:
1st rep: Good evening and thanks for calling, how may I help you tonight?
Me: Hi. I have two United Visa cards and I need to cancel one or combine them or whatever so I only have the new one.
1st Rep: No problem sir, I can do that for you. May I have your account number please?
Me: (Reads account number off card.)
1st Rep: Thank you, sir. And, may I ask who I’m speaking with?
1st Rep: Uh, what’s your first name, sir?
1st Rep: OK, let me transfer you to security sir, please hold.
Hmm…. this is strange, it’s at this point I figure something must be up. The screen in front of the representative must’ve had told her she should be talking to a female, it must have. And, she surely wasn’t. I assume she reacted just as she was trained, not asking any more questions and instead immediately escalating to the account security or fraud department. While the hold music played, I told Sharaun, who was sitting on the couch across from me, “Uh-oh, I think they know I’m not you. We’ll see how this goes.”
Security Rep: Hello sir, thank you for contacting the account security department, how can I help you this evening?
Me: Combine cards, blah, blah.
Security Rep: Of course, sir, I can transfer you to an account representative who can take care of that for you. Before I do, however, I’d like to take this opportunity to verify a few pieces of information with you for security and identification purposes. Is this OK?
Security Rep: Very good sir. I’m going to ask you a series of multiple choice questions. All the information I will be basing the questions on is from publicly available records. At any point during my reading back of the possible answers when you hear the correct answer, you can just interrupt me and tell me. Do you understand?
At this point, after the security person had given her SAT-proctor style preface, I began wondering if I hand’t got in a bit over my head. I briefly considered hanging up, running. I worried, though, that doing so may set off some alarmist sort of flag and possibly result in a hold or cancellation of the card. So, I dug in and made the choice to tough it out.
Security Rep: Which of the following four addresses in [the town Sharaun and I attended college in] are closest to a location where you previously lived in that city?
I purposely let her get through all the options. She reads four addresses, and ends with a “I’ve never lived near any of these” option. Luckily, having dated Sharaun in college, I instantly recognize the right choice, which interestingly was not her actual address, but an address on the same street she lived on. Tricky.
Me: The one one on Street-X.
Security Rep: Thank you sir. Next, according to your driver’s license, which of the following heights is closest to the height listed.
I let her read them all again. She listed four heights, all in the five foot range, and once again ended with a “None of these heights are close to what’s on my driver’s license” option. Thankfully, I had Sharaun’s wallet next to me and flipped it open to read her ID. Funny, her actual listed height wasn’t one of the options the representative offered me. So, instead of picking the closest, I decided to instead quote the height actually listed.
Me: Five foot five.
Security Rep: That’s as it appears on your driver’s license, sir? (Maybe wondering why I’d not chosen the closest option, and instead given an answer not on her list, but I was feeling bold at this point.)
Security Rep: OK sir, just a couple more questions here. Next, can you tell me what month [Sharaun’s dad’s name] was born in?
No multiple choice here, but she did give me the option of saying the person she named was not related to me in any way or I didn’t know them. Problem is, this one stumped me. I don’t know Sharaun’s dad’s birthday offhand. Worried, and again considering giving up, I didn’t immediately know what to do. After a quick “Ummm” so I could think, I decided do the only thing I could think of: I simply asked Sharaun, out loud and with the phone right at my mouth, “Hey babe, what month is your dad’s birthday in?” “May,” she replied.
Security Rep: (Hesitating, stammering a bit as she began, having heard me loud and clear ask someone for the right answer.) Uh… OK sir, thank you. Ah… can you please verify that last four digits of your social security number?
Me: Number-number-number-number. (This was easy, I’ve long had Sharaun’s SSN memorized.)
Security Rep: OK sir, one more question. Can you please give me one previous address?
Me: (Feeling somewhat bulletproof at this point.) Previous to what, to where I live now?
Security Rep: Yes sir.
Me: [Sharaun’s old address in high school, also her folks’ current address.]
Security Rep: And what county is that in, sir?
Me: [The county.]
At this point, I sense that the representative knows she is not talking to the real Sharaun, but is perhaps at a loss to do anything because I’ve aced the security gauntlet. What she must be thinking, I have no idea. I assume she may have figured out that I was calling on behalf of someone I was in the room with, since she should’ve been able to clearly hear me straight-up ask Sharaun for the right answer to the dad’s birthday question. Eventually, she told me she’d transfer me back to the account representative to finish my transaction.
After the hold music, the 2nd representative did end up processing the request – but not before asking me to confirm “my” mother’s maiden name, “my” current address, and “my” current home phone number. All in all, I answered around ten detailed personal-data questions, and it was the nature of the data that really surprised me and inspired me to write about it.
It’s crazy to think that somewhere, in some tiny cubicle late at night, some woman can pull up a plethora of details about you and me and anyone else in the USofA. Your old college address, what county you’re registered to vote in, what kind of car you owned from 1983 to 1991, the middle name of your firstborn, what carrier your dad served on in Vietnam, if you’re an organ donor, how long you’ve owned your house, and your favorite kind of food is based on an one-year average of credit card charges parsed and bucketed according to a “restaurant-name ethnicity” algorithm. Sheesh.
Welcome to the information age, where you exist as a collection of facts in a machine. Better hope you can remember your 7th grade gym locker combination… or you’ll never get that shiny new minivan with the built-in DVD players when the 2nd kid comes around.
There are things they don’t know, though… I still have that over them.
Goodnight and enjoy you long weekend. Love ya.