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Don’t try canceling your credit card

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“You don’t want your credit card?” asked the incredulous voice of the young man on the other end of the line.

“What can we do to keep your business?”

I was steadfast. “It has nothing to do with CitiBank,” I replied. “I don’t use it and I already have two other cards.”

That was the truth.

I hadn’t used the card in more than six months, so I was surprised when I received an invoice in the mail.

Had someone gotten a hold of my number and racked up a huge bill? I opened the envelope fully expecting to see a long list of purchases at stores I’d never frequented. But no, there was just one charge – a $50 membership renewal fee. Relieved that I wasn’t the victim of identity theft, I placed the invoice on the “to be paid” pile. But then I began questioning the logic of membership.

Why was I being charged for a service I wasn’t using? This didn’t make sense, I was being charged just to have the privilege of enabling CitiBank to make money off my purchases by charging merchants a fee for processing my payments. This is a twofer for CitiBank if there ever was one.

But then there are miles. How could I forget those, all those points I had amassed for being a good guy and using my card to help the financial institution extending me credit and dinging the retailer for doing it. What would happen to the thousands of miles I had never used because of my lack of patience? Carol has more patience than I, but she even gave up in frustration after winding through a maze of teleprompts to finally reach a real live person and be told that the card was in my name and I would have to make the call.

The miles didn’t sway me. I told my guy on the other end of the line, I could merge the miles with one of my other cards.

Seeing that I was resigned to cancel the card, I was told the membership fee would be waived and reminded I would be welcome back at any time.

That was all good. I got rid of my card. But it’s hardly the end of the story.

A month passed and we started to get calls from the credit card message center.

Again, they wouldn’t talk with Carol, so she took down the number and the code number I was to use. And hence began an ordeal consuming the best part of an hour; much of it pushing buttons on my phone and listening to eternally long periods of elevator music punctuated by recordings that “your call is important to us.”

Each person I connected – three by the time I was finished – was preceded with the notice the call may be recorded. In the case of two operators it occurred to me their supervisors might be checking up on them, as their English had me requesting them to repeat their questions again and again. I went through my story multiple times, reciting my Social Security number, date of birth, and the name of the first love of my great grandmother to verify my true identity. What threw them was that I didn’t have the card number.

“Why,” I asked, “did I need that if the account was closed?” I didn’t get an answer, yet clearly I had overstepped my bounds. Who could be terminating an account?

This was ripe material for Kafka, an identity lost in cyberspace.

Finally, the nature of their calls became clear – I owed $50 for a membership I no longer had.

The last of the operators got it. He was very pleasant and patiently explained that because I had delayed more than a month to cancel the card that the charge would require special dispensation to be waived. What’s more – and this was the good news – he had the authority to do it.

“I’ll credit your account,” he told me.

Of course that raised another question: how was he going to do that if I didn’t have an account?

I had the sense not to ask that question – it would have been another hour of elevator music.

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