They've Got Your Number...

Illustration by Ken Davis

I’VE BEEN SPENDING a lot of time with my credit card company lately. Nice people work there, of course, and I try to make every phone call a time of conviviality and respect. It’s what good people do.

Credit card guy: Sir, my name is Brian, and ...

Me: No, it’s not.

“Brian”: I beg your pardon?

Me:  Be honest. They give you anglicized names to sound more American, right? So when did you get that name?

“Brian”: When I was born.  It’s also my father’s name.

Me: And, you’re calling from, like, Mumbai or ...

Brian: Texas.

Me: [awkward moment of silent self-loathing, mercifully cut short by seeing a butterfly. Pretty.]

But you readers understand my point. American jobs should be for Americans. Honest, God-fearing Americans who embody the spirit of freedom and entrepreneurship. Like the guy in Kansas who, according to Brian, had just purchased an iPad with my credit card number. Brian was calling from Texas to make sure this was okay with me, which it wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for buying an iPad or any of the high-tech gadgets that I’ve had my eye on. And I totally get that the guy in Kansas feels the same way. In fact, I was cool with him right up to the point where he decided to keep it for himself.

Fortunately, I wasn’t charged. (Note to guy in Kansas: Next time buy two, and call me.) As a result, Brian sent me a Visa card with a different number.

It felt like a new beginning for me, a fresh start in a life that has few do-overs. It was a moment for celebration so, giddy with excitement, I took my new card and bought something from Target.

Bad idea. On the day Target had one of the largest data breaches in U.S. corporate history, I had to buy a toothbrush. (In my defense, it’s a Sonicare, which leaves my teeth clean and fresh and, as a bonus, emits a high-pitched sound that shuts up the neighbor’s little yappy dogs for a blissful few minutes.)

A couple weeks later, the credit card company called again, although it wasn’t Brian. (I miss him already.) After a brief discussion as to why I was purchasing hundreds of dollars of money orders on-line—which I wasn’t—they sent me another credit card. This one came with a little silver square that’s supposed to better thwart illegal use. How it will do this I don’t know, but since it appears to contain radioactive material maybe it creates some kind of nuclear shield around me. Seems dangerous, but I trust credit card companies. When have they ever steered us wrong?

THE TECHNICAL term of my misfortune is credit card fraud, part of the wider phenomenon known as identity theft, which is the natural outgrowth of people no longer getting to know each other in the conventional way, such as having a nice lunch together. Instead, these days people just grab your Facebook profile, cross reference it through stolen Social Security numbers, then merge it with vulnerable credit card data and just like that, they think they know you.

No phone calls on a lazy Sunday afternoon. No birthday greetings, no thank you notes for the iPad they just purchased on your behalf.

What ever happened to relationships? It’s as if human contact is being reduced to a series of numbers on a computer screen. Although, if one of those numbers belongs to your bank account, you can be sure some guy in Eastern Europe will want to be your new Facebook friend. So maybe it’s not all bad. (But don’t try to stop by for a visit. He moves a lot.)

When it comes to your credit card number, however, never reveal that to anyone, even if it’s a really cool number like mine: 4128-8736-6023-2003. It has a nice rhythm to it, don’t you think? 

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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