Ambient Human Presence

Jazz Festival

Original photo by Alex Cheek. Licensed under CC BY SA 2.0.

This weekend has been a reminder that I actually live in a city. With people. And Culture. Because this weekend was the Atlanta Jazz Festival, an annual event that–if traffic is any indication–draws everyone, from everywhere, to listen to music and/or drink margaritas sold by the yard.

(Yes, really, that is a thing you can buy at our festivals.)

And on some level, it was a little annoying. After all, driving back to my old place to give someone a blender yesterday took me an hour when it should have taken 20 minutes. There’s no way to spin that that doesn’t suck.

At the same time, it is difficult not to be a little happy when you see families carting kids off to go watch jazz in the park on a Sunday night. The weather is beautiful, and as I sit in my new studio I can hear the jazz coming through from the park. When I came home from getting groceries, my neighbors from the next building over were sitting in the street, drinking beer and petting their diverse variety of giant, excellent-seeming dogs.  Continue reading

The Worst Worst Thing

So today was kind of terrible.

Not in a, “my host mom made me cry way.” Not even in a, “I worked on a group paper for six hours why god why,” kind of way.

Today was terrible in a, “Bank of America closed access to my debit card while I still have 10 days–including a trip to Paris–between me and home” kind of way. (Also terrible in a, “this is the 21st century, why does this have to be resolved on the phone, no, Senegal doesn’t participate in the international toll-free standard, I’m switching to a credit union” kind of way.)

So yeah, that happened. Apparently BoA somehow came to be aware that someone had stolen my card number and all of its accompanying security information. How they came to know this, I have no idea. The purchase that they had flagged on my account was legitimate*, so I assume something else tipped them off. At least, I hope so, because if not my bank has just made my life really miserable for no reason at all.**

The kindly customer service people told me that they could keep the hold on my account temporary. So now I just have to call them and go through phone tree hell each time I make an ATM withdrawal or a purchase between now and May 25th, at which point they’ll send me a new card. It’s a terrible solution, but it is some sort of a solution.

This whole experience was a nice reminder of how incredibly terrible American banks are at dealing with travel. For me to resolve the situation, I had to call the bank on a telephone (rather than providing my verification information online), because apparently I live in 1999.

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Bank of America is Judging Me

Tiny, delicious shame nuggets.

[Source]

So, today I got a note from Bank of America telling me that—as a result of some suspicious charges—my debit card had been suspended. I had to call them to get the card reinstated.

I assumed that something in my last week’s worth of purchases (all sort of odds and ends to prepare for my trip to Senegal this week) had tripped the algorithm. My money was on the three transactions that I managed to have take place at REI last week, despite having never spent money on fitness gear before.

Once I worked my way through the many painful phone menus involved in getting to the right customer service robot, the system read the suspicious charges to me. The REI charges were not among them. In fact, none of my unusual travel charges were. Instead, my card got flagged for these three purchases:

  1. $8.56 spent on pizza at 10:30 last night.
  2. $8.93 spent on grocery store mini cheesecakes at 10:00 the night before.
  3. $25.00 spent at a CVS the night before that. (Which was very nearly $45.00, but they were out of Genie Bras in my size.)

Bank of America flagged me for buying food—and in the CVS case, acne medication—late at night. Along with being massively embarrassing (mini cheesecakes are not a food that screams “dignity”), these purchases are completely within the realm of normal for me. I have been to all of these stores before. I usually spend about $10 when I get food and about $25 when I go on a CVS binge.

What I have not ever done is spend $100 at REI, then get refunded $50, then spend $26, then get refunded $26. That transaction (having to do with some confusion about what mosquito net I needed) happened the same day as the CVS debacle, and BoA did not bat an eye at it.

The algorithm it’s applying to my account is one that makes sense for my parents. It is not one that makes sense for a physically inactive college student with poor impulse control and a deep love of cream cheese. Conveniently, as Bank of America has every possible bit of information about me, it knows which one of those two demographics I fit in.

So, the moral of this story—for those of you seeking to commit identity fraud—is to buy some really sweet and easily resold luggage at REI. However, avoid groceries. The bank might catch on.