There I was, minding my own business watching television last night, when at about 8.30pm a ‘ping’ indicated that a text had arrived on my mobile phone.
So far so good.
A short while later I wandered over to the sideboard to see whether at last Sophia Loren had seen sense, found herself staying at the Grosvenor on Park Lane and yes, would indeed like to go for a cheeseburger and fries plus a Diet Coke at Alf’s Café on the corner beside the newspaper shop where I buy my daily newspapers.
No such luck. Instead two texts had flooded in. The first purported to come from my bank and announced that it needed to verify some recent transactions on my credit card. I was shortly to receive a message from a given mobile phone number with details of how to proceed.
The second – presumably from said mobile, though even as I type I have not bothered to check – stated that someone using my credit card had recently attempted to pay a sum of over 200 ‘GBP’ for grocery items at a shop in the United States. I was to reply ‘Y’ to the text if I had made this transaction; alternatively, if I did not recognise it, please would I reply ‘N’.
As a first response, being of an age when I sometimes have difficulty remembering what I had for breakfast, I took a moment to metaphorically rub my eyes and shake my head vigorously in order to ensure the old brain box was in gear before considering the proposition.
My first deduction was scarcely in the Sherlock Holmes class – in using the acronym ‘GBP’, the author of the second text was clearly referring to pounds sterling, a bit like on the telly, when you’re watching the starting line-up during the athletics coverage, ‘FRA’ means France and ‘ESP’ means Spain.
However, the big breakthroughs concerned came with the nature of the transaction.
Firstly, I had indeed bought groceries that morning, but I hadn’t paid for them with my credit card.
Secondly, my purchases – some limes and broccoli from the veg section, a box of 20 slices of Edam cheese, two flat-iron beef steaks, two salmon steaks, a large bottle of Plymouth Gin, two cartons of Onken yoghurt, a bag of walnuts, a bottle of Listerine original mouthwash and a Hovis wholemeal ‘Seeded Sensations’ loaf of bread – had come to a total of £46.78, not an exact figure in excess of £200.
Thirdly, unless my mind was playing tricks, I had bought my groceries from my local Tesco Metro in Bayswater, not a store the United States of America.
Armed with this evidence, I then addressed the issue of what to do.
On the face of it, the logical answer seemed to be to respond to the second text with the single capital letter ‘N’. This action would assure my bank that I had not made said transaction and therefore, presumably, they would take things from there.
Suppose these texts hadn’t come from my bank – as had been represented – but from some nerdy little bastard teenager operating from his back bedroom in a two-up, two-down semi-detached in Isleworth?
If you want to take fraudulent advantage of Nelson, you have to be a bit smarter than that.
Without much further ado beyond refilling my whisky glass I took my credit card out of my wallet and rang the Customer Help Line listed on the back. After playing the inevitable but frustrating game of going through the hoops of the automated system designed to determine not only who I was but what I was calling about (I chose ‘Press 5 for Any Other Reason’) … and then waiting for a seeming eternity … I was actually put through to a human being.
She asked me to confirm some personal information ‘for security purposes’ (including how many letters were there in my mother’s maiden name and it took me nearly a minute to find a pad of paper and a biro so that I could work that out) but – now on high alert – I was too smart to fall for that old chestnut.
“How do I know that you’re not some snotty-nosed little kid operating from a back bedroom in Isleworth?” I asked, assertively.
She soon satisfied me on that one – to be honest I should perhaps have thought of this previously – by pointing out that I had rung the number of the back of my credit card, on the face of it ‘soft’ evidence (but evidence nonetheless) tending to support the contention that I was in contact with the organisation I was expecting to be.
I shall not bore my readers with full details of the resulting conversation. Suffice it to say that I informed said lady that I had visited the USA just once in the past four years, spending three days in New York State this September in order to attend a relative’s memorial service. She advised that the great likelihood was that my credit card had been ‘cloned’.
The bank would now put an immediate ‘close’ on my credit card, refund the offending transaction, and send me a brand new credit card within four to six working days. This would arrive in a state to respond to my existing PIN number and her recommendation was that, upon receiving it, I should take it to a ‘hole in the wall’ machine and re-set it to a new number.
Was there anything else that I would like to do?
I replied that yes, there was. I wanted to commend her, and her employer, for their efforts in this matter. Thanks to their intervention my tidy but not overly substantial stash of savings had been saved from being plundered by some nerdy little teenage bastard operating not (as first thought) from his back bedroom in Isleworth, but from perhaps from one somewhere in New York State.
In return, the bank lady paid me a compliment. I had done just the right thing in contacting the bank’s Customer Help Line to check the authenticity of the texts I had earlier received.
There was goodwill in the air all round as we signed off our telephone call.
I returned to my armchair in front of the television with my chest rather puffed out with a sense of smug self-pride. I may be part of Britain’s ‘senior citizen’ army but no nerdy little Yankee teenage bastard was going to get the better of yours truly.
It was only later, as I lowered my ancient body gingerly into my bed, that I began to wonder whether at lunchtime I should have given my bank sort code and account details quite so freely to that very nice young man who had rung to say that he was conducting a survey on behalf of my gas supplier and needed to check a few details …