What They Stole


This is a scary story that has nothing to do with Halloween.

It started a couple of weeks ago when I received a business-size envelope in the mail. “Welcome to your new Walmart Credit Card,” the letter inside said. Sure enough, there was a shiny new MasterCard with my name on it. And on that card was a sticker instructing me to call a toll-free number to activate the card before use. Strange. Very strange. Because I’ve never applied for a Walmart credit card. I set the letter and card aside and went on about my business.

The very next day, I got another piece of unexpected mail. A bill from the bank that issued the card saying that my account had a balance of almost $3,000, all of it charged at a Walmart in Greeneville. Panicked, I called the phone number provided. After Robot Lady forced me to jump through a million dead-end hoops, it became clear she wasn’t going to connect me with a real person. Not even when I said CUSTOMER SERVICE in an increasingly loud and irritated voice.

So I hung up and started over, this time yelling CUSTOMER SERVICE as soon as Robot Lady answered the phone. The human representative with whom I, at long last, was connected had an accent not from around here. Meaning not Tennessee, not the United States, not North America, and not the Western Hemisphere. But we eventually understood each other enough for her to assure me that she would put a hold on the account and that a fraud investigation would be begun.

“How could someone open an account in my name?” I asked. “Wouldn’t they have to have a photo ID?”

No answer.

“And how they were able to charge almost $3,000 before the card was even activated?”

Again, no answer.

“It looks like this thief bought gift cards with this newly-opened account. How come that didn’t raise any eyebrows?”

More silence

Finally, hoping she was attuned to the sarcasm in my voice, I thanked her for her help and began the process of reporting the fraud to the Robot People at all the credit agencies and to the real live people at the Putnam County sheriff’s department, who were extraordinarily sympathetic and helpful.

Not surprisingly, I received a Target credit card in the mail the very next day. The day after that, the bill. All the purchases were made at a Target store in Maryville. One pair of leggings, two t-shirts and several hundred dollars’ worth of gift cards. So the process began all over again.

And I feel as though concrete blocks are being piled upon my chest.

Because these low-life, stinking, no-good thieves have stolen something from me. Not money, because everyone I spoke with assured me I wouldn’t be liable for charges made on fraudulently acquired credit cards. What the thieves stole were the hours it has taken to try to straighten this mess out. Hours that I’ll never get back. They stole my naïve belief that retailers are trying to run a taut ship. They stole—at least for a while–my ability to conduct any kind of business that requires my social security number, because it’s been frozen. They stole my peace of mind.

Worst of all, they stole at least a little bit of my faith in the goodness of people. That’s what makes this story so scary. And so sad.

(October 23, 2016)