Should Have Checked Before Checking

, , , , , | Legal | October 22, 2018

(I am the “secretary/assistant” to my elderly mom, who handles all of the sighted needs for herself and my vision-impaired dad. I help her when she pays their monthly bills — utilities, credit card payments, etc. — and am an authorized person on all of their finances. It is the 1990s, and it is not unusual for major banks to send unsolicited, pre-approved credit cards — the cards themselves, not just applications — to people like my parents who have excellent credit. The banks also send unrequested “convenience checks” to credit card customers in good standing. These checks can be used for anything the cardholder wants to buy, and the amount of the check will be added to the credit card bill. One day my mom calls me because she’s upset about a credit card bill she’s received. The bill is for $7,500 US, and it’s on a Visa card from a major national bank where my parents have a small savings account.)

Mom: *worried* “[My Name], I know we didn’t spend that amount of money on anything last month!”

(We look through my mom’s “financial stuff” file and find the Visa card in question. It’s one of those unsolicited cards, but not only has my mom never used it, she’s never even called the 800-number to activate the card. I call the bank’s credit card division about the incorrect bill.)

Customer Service: *reviews the account* “Yes, that $7,500 is from two of our convenience checks drawn on that credit card; and yes, your parents do owe that amount.”

Me: “But my parents have never used this card, and they never received any convenience checks.”

Customer Service: “Yes, they did. Two checks were drawn on that card, on [dates about a month ago].”

Me: “Ma’am, I promise you, I’m holding this card in my hand, and it still has the ‘Call This Number to Activate Card’ sticker on it. We never activated the card, and we’ve never used it.”

(Customer service and I go around this loop a few more times: “Yes, they used the checks,” “No, they didn’t, and the card was never activated,” “Yes, they did…” etc. Finally:)

Customer Service: “Um, perhaps I should transfer you to our fraud division.”

Me: *gratefully* “Yes, please!”

(I repeat the story to the fraud investigator.)

Fraud Guy: *checks his computer and says, slowly* “Yeah… yeah… You’re right. That card was never activated. It shouldn’t have accepted any charges. Let me see what I can find out about this and I’ll give you a call back tomorrow.”

(The next day he does call back.)

Fraud Guy: “Well, Ms. [My Name], I’m happy to tell you that your parents do not owe $7,500, or in fact any amount, on this card. Technically, I’m not supposed to give you the details, but…”

(He tells me what happened. Apparently, the bank sent a set of the convenience checks to my parents at the address they’ve had for almost 50 years. The post office, however, instead of delivering to my parents’ address, say, 1234 North Avenue 76, delivered the checks to 1234 South 76th Street, an address that’s some 30 miles on the other side of our large metropolitan city. The people who received the convenience checks — which bore my parents’ names, address, and credit card account number — must have thought, “Yay! Windfall!” and they wrote one check for $3,500 and another for $4,000; thus, the $7,500 bill to my parents. Here, the fraud guy starts laughing:)

Fraud Guy: “But when the mistaken people wrote those two checks, they just deposited them to their own checking account. All we had to do was look at the backs of the checks, and we had the bank name and account number where they were deposited. It’s the easiest case I’ve ever handled. Oh, and we’ve cancelled that credit card number, so your folks don’t have to worry about it.”

(I laughed with him, we hung up, and with great pleasure — and relief! — my mom cut that card into itty-bitty pieces.)

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