Friday, November 7, 2014

"Light Bulbs and Mastercards"

When a light bulb burns out in our house, I change it.  When we run out of light bulbs, I go out and buy more. 

That’s (not my only but my primary) my job in this family, and like my previous assignment from which I am currently retired –generating adequate income so we could eat and buy things and visit interesting places – I take it equally seriously.

An indoor flood light bulb burns out in our kitchen, there are none of them in reserve.  So I immediately head off to Light Bulbs Unlimited to restock.  As a reflection of my existential condition, I consider this an adventure.

I arrive at Light Bulbs Unlimited, my burnt-out indoor flood bulb in hand, so I can show them exactly what I need replaced –avoiding possible errors concerning wattage and bulb size – I am nothing if not a conscientious Steward of my Station.  Plus, I do not want to have to come back.

I am immediately informed that, in the name of eco-friendly sympaticality, the gub’mint had legislatively banished this species of indoor flood light bulb from the planet.

I am offered, instead, its unilateral replacement – a light bulb costing in the vicinity of fifty-nine dollars. 

THOMAS EDISON:  “No foolin’?  Holy Smokes!

You got it, Tommy.  Fifty-nine dollars for one light bulb. 

It is immediately touted, however, that this eco-friendlier upgrade will burn for 25,000 hours.  My initial thought is, “Who wants a bulb that will live longer than I do?”  My subsequent thought is, “Do you have any of the old ones in the back?”

“I have two cases left.”  How many bulbs in each case?  “Forty-eight.”  And how much are they apiece?  “Fourteen dollars.”

So there was my choice.  I could buy a case of the old light bulbs for… let’s see, fifty light bulbs at fifteen dollars would be… seven hundred and fifty dollars, so it’s a case of old light bulbs for just under seven hundred and fifty dollars, or one new light bulb for fifty-nine.  (For some reason, I blanked entirely on buying the old light bulbs individually.  Which would have been more reasonable but have made a less interesting story.)

I decide to buy three of the new light bulbs (one for now, and two exorbitantly priced backups), and I hand over my credit card. 

Unaware that I was initiating a second round of aggravation.

My credit card, I am alerted store’s sales representative, has been summarily rejected.  (I can almost read the word “deadbeat” in his eyes.)

This has happened to me before.  The Mastercard “Fraud Division” finds “suspicious activity” on my card, and they automatically render it inoperable. 

Which means that I have to call them up and arrange for a new credit card, a minor annoyance compared with having to notify every vendor who has my old credit card number on record and alert them of the change.  Aggravating, because there are a substantial number of them, and exponentially more aggravating, because I do not know who all of them are. 

Meaning that I will inevitably charge a purchase on a card that is no longer in service, the result being that that purchase will never arrive.

I pay for my egregiously overpriced light bulbs with another credit card, and tote them – gingerly – back to the car.

At home, I am informed that Mastercard has already called, and I am handed a “Call Back” number.  It is indeed the ever-alert Mastercard “Fraud Division’s.”

Responding to my return phone call, I am greeted not by a person but by an automated machine.  Tapping in the appropriate identificational information and pressing “One” when instructed, I am finally delivered to the matter in hand – the “suspicious activity” that has triggered the cancellation of my card.

To verify the situation, the machine asks me this question:

“Did you charge $198.67 on your Mastercard at a hardware store on July 26th?”

Oh, Man!  I hate this!  I mean, “July 26th.”  How am I going to remember what I did on July 26th?

And then I remembered.

“Wait a minute!  ‘July 26th’.  That’s today! 

(The day of this particular adventure.)

And that “suspicious” Mastercard charge was for the light bulbs!

(Fifty-nine dollars times three, plus tax.)

I had bought expensive light bulbs at a store less than three miles from my house, and for that they had rejected my credit card?  That wasn’t “suspicious activity.”  That was Earl Pomerantz, using his credit card! 

This was an absolute first.  I’ve had my credit card cancelled as a result of questionable purchases made in places I have never visited, like Delaware.  But this is the first time I encountered “Fraud Division” scrutiny for something I was doing myself…

At the precise moment I was doing it!

Talk about an itchy trigger finger!  Their reaction was incredibly fast.  Also, inexplicably inappropriate.  What is going on with those Mastercard people?  Are they suspicious of everything?  

Perhaps they were trying to stop me from buying three light bulbs for a hundred and ninety-eight dollars.  I mean, they are Mastercard’s crime prevention division.

And if that isn’t a crime,

What is?


Frank said...

Should only buy one of anything new because by the time you need another one their price has dropped to get rid of old stock. Expensive light!

Harry Pewter said...

Ain't that amazing! A similar thing happened to me the first time Chase/JP Morgan was hacked, which may have been last July. Every week for over a year, a bunch of us retired military folk meet for lunch at the same place. The number of people will vary but the place does not. It's my custom to use my Chase ATM for such purchases. But right after the security breach, their fraud division is all over my suspicious purchase of lunch at the same place I've been going for at least 52 weeks. They sent a notice to my phone - contact us immediately - an email and a phone call to my home (I soon found out). They did not deny my purchase, but they wanted my OK to process it. So I send the okie dokie and all is fine in the world.

As for the light bulbs, I believe as of Jan. 2014 it is no longer legal to manufacture incandescent light bulbs in the US. I believe they can still be sold. I happened to stockpile lots of the old bulbs and the last time I was at Target, they still had a large inventory of said bulbs. Interestingly (sort of), the recommended bulb (of the day) is the CFL. Until, somebody recently told me that the CFL is now out of favor and the white LED bulb is in. As long as I can still use the old ones, I'll stay away from the eco-friendly massively overpriced bulbs (that contain mercury thus requiring 'special disposal').

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Harry: The US is following Europe in this. Agree about the mercury - and the color of the light emitted by CF bulbs is usually horrid too. LEDs are constantly getting better and cheaper...either way, although the bulbs are expensive you should see a return in the form of cheaper electric bills.

I believe Texas tried to block this legislation; who knew it was a major light bulb manufacturer?

Frank: the other rule is, when you like something buy two, because they're going to stop making it before the first one wears out.