Friday, March 20, 2009

Doing the pornographers' bidding

The title of this post either turns one off or captures the attention, right?

In 2004, while I was helping his mom with her computer, the son of a work acquaintance copied my credit card numbers and, I realized later, stole a check from my checkbook from my purse.

An on-line vendor of high-end athletic equipment called that evening to verify that I had indeed placed an order for several hundred dollars' worth of high-end basketball apparel when they noted a discrepancy between shipping and billing addresses. Thank goodness. I realize in a flash what had happened and cancelled my credit cards.

A few days later, several charges for membership to Internet pornography sites showed up on my checking account.

I knew, of course, it was the work of this person, as the house was filled with basketball memorabilia, and my friend's computer was choked with pornography, which would pop up randomly while we worked.

I reported the theft to the police. I called the third-party company who billed for the pornographers. The police were magnificent; the billing company in Austin, Texas, was abysmal, to put it charitably.

After confiscating the computer, a police technician determined through electronic forensic tests that the transaction times and amounts matched those in my checking account.

The first billing company customer service rep, Stacia, helpfully agreed to credit my accounts, and I should see the credit "in four to ten days." (That uncertain time frame should have been my first hint of trouble brewing.) Of course, the charges were remained, so again, I called and this time spoke to a less helpful customer "service" representative.

She insisted, with some hostility, that I was to seek recourse from the perpetrator, although she was aware that the transactions were under investigation by two separate police departments (my city and that to which the goods were to be shipped). The interaction finished with: "I know Stacia, and I know she would never say anything like that." She punctuated her accusation of me as a liar by hanging up.

This was a time of my life in which $90 would have made the difference between making it to the end of the month or bouncing a check. I bought nothing except the very minimum amount of food, and all produce was red-banded. Even a cup of coffee from a convenience market was deemed an unnecessary luxury. I walked or bicycled everywhere. Of course, I was unable to afford Tamoxifen (even from Canada) to treat the breast cancer I was diagnosed with two years before. It was a very lean and scary time.

I sent a certified letter with all the facts to the president of the company. No response.

In a desperate attempt to get out of the nonproductive customer service loop, I called the sales director, and was directed to a self-described "more seasoned" customer service rep.

And she was. She listened patiently while I explained the situation, said that the hostile rep had been dealt with properly, and credited my account. If there was an art to customer service, she was good at it. She knew how to "handle" difficult customers. She could have credited my account, and I could have remained angry; however, but her manner was professional and courteous and I was mollified.

This occurred in a time of vigorous economy. I asked, "Why is someone with your professionalism and excellent customer service skills doing the bidding of an Internet pornographers?" The question was rhetorical, meant as a compliment, and she understood.

In time, the man, who was on probation at the time of this episode, was brought to justice, and was forced by the court to make retribution.

The saga has a coda. Four years after the resolution of this problem, this gem of a B2B company again billed my checking account for the cost of the same Internet pornography. Yet another certified letter to the president went ignored. Another good customer service rep credited my account, but was unable to explain why, four years after the fact, my account was even on their books, much less being dunned for an illegitimate charge. Better Business Bureau contacted the company, but eventually reported the case as being resolved.


Her Artichoke Heart said...

That is so scary! They say on-line identity theft is a problem, but four years ago I had my credit card numbers stolen by a clerk who worked at a video store when I opened a new membership there. The only reason I could trace it back to him is because by sheer coincidence, a co-worker had happened to come by at the exact same time -- on a Sunday -- to open a new membership, too. He stole both our credit card numbers. Luckily the credit card company called my co-worker after suspicious charges appeared on her account, so she told me to check my credit card, too. The loss-prevention guy at the video store was really helpful, though. The clerk got fired and charged. And we both got free video rentals for a year. :)

Waitress from Mensa said...

It's almost eerie that a small coincidence happens at just the right time to save a large amount of heartburn.

A very similar incident at my local convenience market before the gas pumps accepted debit cards. The clerk charged gas and forged my signature on the credit card slip. (It was just an oil company credit card.) The convenience market was not helpful, but Citgo made good on everything.