Become a Criminal

Robert McCloskey the American award winning author once said: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.”

I have always considered myself to be an honest type but the world’s, and particularly our call centres, have inadvertently made me a criminal. This could happen to you too so there is a lesson to be learnt here by all. Importantly it shows how easy it is to create serious havoc should one have dishonest intents.

Before I get too far ahead of myself let me tell you my tale. As they used to say in one of my favourite TV shows: “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent”.

Some little time ago the love of my life had to have a certain device. She was sure it really was a matter of life and death if she could not get it. That sounds simple enough; the festive season was nigh and the purchase of this device would solve all these problems beautifully. As always with things assumed to be simple I ran into an unexpected snag. Despite all the advertisements I could not get the item in time and no amount of pleading with or cajoling of suppliers made a scrap of difference. There just weren’t any – sorry mate!

Enter close relation Fred who worked for a supplier of the desired device and guaranteed that he could produce everything in a timely manner. His instructions were to purchase the device outright so that no accounts were created. Being a reasonable chap I thought that was simple and straight forward. Fred agreed to all that and ultimately returned with the device but only to inform me that he had to purchase it under a contract which was in his name; precisely the unwanted result.

Time passed and it became obvious that the lauded terms of the contract were not as favourable as assumed and I decided to pay it out and register the device in the name of the proper owner. And that dear reader is where the story really starts. You see there was nobody local who could deal with the problem and one had to resort to calling the help line. Of course you have guessed it; the call centre I reached was in the Philippines and created some of the usual language and syntax difficulties that are almost the norm.

Now I hasten to add the centre operators on the other end of my phone were certainly willing to please and at all times remained friendly and addressed the task as efficiently as their system permitted.

My opening statement was that we were dealing with an account in Fred’s name. The very nice lady immediately assumed I was Fred and insisted on addressing me as such.

My request was to pay out any outstanding balances and terminate the account and have the device registered as belonging to my spouse. That appeared to be acceptable and all she wanted to know was which address the account was always forwarded to. Great I thought, how easy was this?

But there was a snag. This operator was not authorised to receive payment.

Well then, could I speak with someone who could? One waited but, to keep the story brief, it suffices to tell you that I actually finished dealing with five different ladies. Each was restricted in some way which defeated my purpose. By that time there was steam starting to come out of my ears but I kept my cool. There just was no point in letting temper turn all this into a huge and frustrating saga. I simply appealed to them that I really needed their help as I had no idea how to solve the problem and believed they were my only hope. Bingo, that little piece of psychology worked a treat.

I was finally shunted to somebody just as nice as her predecessors who advised me that she had to prove my identity. She knew my name was Fred despite the fact that at no time had I claimed that identity. I just had been afforded that label. Could I please tell her my -er- Fred’s birth date. Well I got the day and month right but was totally confused about the year. Apparently my guesses were close enough. She laughingly agreed that she also forgot exact dates at times. Obviously that established my bona fides since hey, after all, I was just like her.

So there I was with full access to Fred’s account and able to do as I wished. No passwords secret identity clues, nothing. But I did what I intended to do and paid out the contract and closed the account.

Ownership of the device was also transferred at the same time. All I was asked for was the number of a credit card and nothing else. No name, expiry, security code just the number.

What became a stumbling block was my request for a receipt to acknowledge the transaction. For that I had to talk to somebody higher up.

The higher up person turned out to be a gentleman who lamented that I had not contacted him first because he could have offered me all kinds of deals. The obvious question as to how I would know his name and contact number, indeed even of his existence remains unanswered. He did insist that I fax him an instruction as to the new owner of the device as he needed my -er- Fred’s signature to confirm all this.

Unfortunately I could only contact Fred by phone only to find he could not fax those details as he was in the middle of nowhere but agreed to let me sign on his behalf.
So all that was done and the necessary paperwork I wanted was received.

And that is the end of the story but I am certain you are already yelling and questioning all the errors in procedure to safeguard Fred’s accounts and indeed identity. I wholeheartedly agree but pursued my path just to see whether my outcome could be reached.

If one changed the intended outcome it would have been very simple to cause considerable damage. One thing that reassured me about my real life episode is that I am not paranoid about identity theft when I write some of theses articles. The system failed in the call centre for human reasons of kindness and desire to serve; made all the harder by my willingness to go along with their erroneous assumptions.

Robert McCloskey did get it right, so don’t get caught!

Arvo Elias

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