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Ralph Gardner Jr: The Mixed Blessing Of Online Banking

Ralph Gardner, Jr.

If Elizabeth Warren or some other Democrat who isn’t in the pocket of Wall Street (talk about winnowing the field), who makes consumer rather than high donor protection a central plank of her platform, becomes the next President of the United States the reason will have something to do with my credit score.

My credit score is fine. The issue is how I was recently tempted to obtain it and the complications that arose once I had.

I went on my computer to do some online banking – to pay some bills.

But starting about a month or so ago I was able to get access to my account only after circumventing an offer to check out my credit score. The offer said it was free and would only take seconds. Most importantly of all, it appeared to be come with the encouragement of my bank, where I’ve been a loyal customer for thirty-nine years.

I’m only aware of the longevity of our relationship because whenever I call their customer service hotline they start the conversation with “Thanks for being a loyal customer for thirty-nine years.”

Nonetheless, I possess a suspicious, sarcastic, cynical, borderline paranoid personality when it comes to corporate America. Not to put too fine a point on it but I’m of the proverbial “Trust, but verify” school.

So I resisted the temptation to accept their free credit score offer, knowing full well the stories of digital wolves in sheep’s clothing. Yet even when I was in the middle of paying bills new windows would pop up goading me.

One of them said “Dear Visitor: Records indicate that you have not yet viewed your (3) Credit Scores. Please note that the last day to claim is today.”

And there were other messages. Including this one, all of which appeared to be coming with the imprimatur of my financial institution: “Important Message For (it stated the name of my bank) Visitors. And went on to relate “a situation that has occurred that may be related (in bold letters) to your personal identification.”

I eventually succumbed – this offer was coming through my bank, as I’ve said, on their website, which I believed to be something of a secure zone.

Within 24 hours of obtaining my credit score I went back online to review some recent transactions and discovered a charge for $19.95 from the credit history monitoring company.

I was furious, not just because they’d advertised the service as free but also because my bank seemed to be in cahoots with them. I cancelled the service immediately and when they had the temerity to contact me to fill out a customer satisfaction survey I did, telling them exactly what I thought of their service.

A day later I got a call from a member of their customer satisfaction, or rather dissatisfaction, team. She commiserated with my plight and shared my disappointment regarding my experience but informed me that she was powerless to do anything about it, or to refund me the $19.95 I was out.

However, the following day I received an email from the company, perhaps prompted by the piquant comments I appended to the survey, headed “Refund Status.”

I was informed I was being granted a refund. For $1 dollar.

A second “Refund Status” email arrived less than 24 hours later. Now I was being refunded the full $19.95. I don’t know whether that’s because they felt genuinely remorseful for their snake oil tactics or because I raised hell.

I also called my bank. Predictably, the customer service representative I got on the phone had no idea what I was talking about when I brought to his attention the gauntlet I was now required to go through to access online banking.

So I asked to be bumped up to a supervisor. I was put on hold, listening to lousy elevator music for so long that I eventually got off to seek sustenance.

I also contacted the bank’s media relations office. And got an email response asking how they could help? I’m still awaiting their response.

My primary question is whether my bank has a relationship with the credit score monitoring agency – if their website was hacked they’re certainly taking their sweet times informing their loyal customers – or whether this is just a cute little scheme to add a few bucks to their bottom line and impress their stockholders at the expense of their customers.

At a minimum you’d think their offers to check out my credit scores would have ceased once I did so.

They haven’t. I continue to be bombarded by pleas to check out my credit score as well, now, as to refinance my home.

I realize that having to dodge online offers from your multinational bank isn’t among the existential threats facing voters next years. I’d put climate change at the top of that queue, followed by things like Russian interference in our democracy, the disenfranchisement of voters, and the demonization of dehumanization of immigrants.

But it’s symptomatic of larger outrages and perhaps a portend of a gathering storm that will sweep away the old order, at least some of its more egregious aspects, and hopefully usher in a new more citizen-friendly one a year from now.

Then again, that may just be another example of the naiveté that tempted to check out my credit scores in the first place.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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