THE MAIL – Once again I am going through the mail looking for…uh-oh. Here it is: The most dreaded envelope of all: the monthly credit card bill from House O’ Cards. It is by far the largest bill I get except for those from Vito the Enforcer & Co. Let’s see what I rang up last month. Tito Vodka, Bud Breweries and the Cheap Cigar Shop. Four of the items listed, two for $5.41 and two for $27.01, are small amounts, but I don’t recall those purchases. You no doubt have curiosities on your credit card. Some odd item from Vermont or a meaningless name like “Op Tox, Inc.” You finally call the phone number listed, and a voice answers, “Whips R Us” and then you recall that on-line purchase from that kinky club you joined. But this time there is no phone number or anything else to jog your memory, so you call your credit card company and punch 1 for English and 2 for Swahili while listening to bagpipe hits of the ‘40s. Long story short: the four bills are scams.
Credit card companies have been quite helpful for me with stolen listings, immediately freezing the card, wiping out the false charges and sending me a new card. In this case someone somewhere got my card number and ran up those charges, attempting to use it for 16 other purchases. They were turned down. A year ago my bill showed a bunch of items from California. I called the card company to complain that I had not eaten at a Chipotle in Long Beach. But why buy small items? Why not buy a 50-inch TV or a latte at Starbucks? The nice fellow on the phone said the card sharks start with only small items you are not going to question, to see if they can pull it off. Then they go for the bigger fish.
More than 97 million women and 95 million men in the United State have one or more credit cards, for a total of almost 1.9 billion cards. Women are rejected from credit card applications at a higher rate than men. How many cards do you have? The average American owns two to three, or 2.35. The average outstanding balance is $5,551. Texas ranks 31st among the states in the number of cards we carry, with 2.17, and an outstanding balance of $5,132. (Georgia leads.) The higher your income the more credit cards you have, topping out with those whose annual income is $150,000 or higher at 97 percent. But here’s something odd: 46 percent of Americans with no income have a credit card. Must be college students who are living off their parents and put their student loan on Visa.
Here are some stats to make you only use cash:
There were 650,572 cases of identity theft in 2019.
Those aged 30 to 39 reported the most cases.
Georgia, Nevada, and California were the top three states for identity theft by population.
Of all types of identity theft, credit card fraud was the most common last year with over 270,000 reports, that’s more than doubled from 2017 to 2019.
A lot of people are being victimized by credit card, sometimes by simple theft. Like me. It began in NRG Stadium where the Houston Texans play. Team motto: “You are never more than four downs from professional football.” Getting to my seat, I discover my wallet is missing. After the game, I go home to check. No wallet. No cards. I call my credit card company at that time, PlasticParasite, which tells me I have been running around the stadium buying stuff, then to a Fiesta across the street, a couple of gas fill-ups (apparently the thieves had two cars) and an unsuccessful attempt to purchase several hundred dollars’ worth of items at a Target. So my pocket really was picked, and by pros. PlasticParasite tells me the exact amount of the purchases, the exact time (it uses Eastern Standard Time on a 24-hour clock).
I am out my driver’s license, credit cards, and cash. The next day I go to my bank to see if anyone has tampered with my accounts, although my secret password (“password”) was not in my wallet, nor my PIN number (1). “I assure you sir,” says the officer, “we here at the West Bank of the Bayou are most careful about security.” He sits at a computer. “It shows here that your account has not been touched, except for a $2,000 withdrawal from your checking account today, and another $8,000 from your savings account.” The bank discovers that the thieves, as an ID, put a new face on my driver’s license. At the Texas Driver’s License office I apply for a replacement. The clerk says, “Do you have a photo ID, like a driver’s license?” Many people have automatic withdrawals from their credit card. I have a bunch — electric bill, phone bill, bail bond payment. It takes forever to change the card number. At the police station no one seems interested. Also, I notice banks, chain stores, sports facilities and gasoline companies really don’t want people to know how easy it is to rip them off. It’s bad publicity, so they basically ignore the problem.
Now for the rest of the story. A few days after my pickpocketing, a local TV station does a short interview with me about the episode, and shows the photo stuck on my fake driver’s license that was shown to the bank. The guy didn’t look a thing like me, mainly because we were not of the same race. The TV program is being watched by two jailers in Bastrop, and one jailer says to the other, “Hey, Charlie, isn’t that the same guy we’ve got in Cell 6?” It is. I never found out the details, and I really don’t care, but that was the only offensive play the Texans had that day.
Ashby credits at email@example.com