Living with credit, Protecting yourself

Is anyone really paying attention?

Emily Crone

A friend recently burned me a book on CD called “Life’s Little Annoyances.” It’s about real people who had enough of something that massively annoyed them and did something about it. One vignette is about a successful woman who was furious that every time she went out to dinner with her husband, the waiter automatically handed him the bill. Never once was it given to her — even when she gestured that she’d take it.

One day, the woman reached her breaking point. “Why do you ALWAYS get the bill?” she yelled. “Because I have a penis,” her husband calmly responded. He then showed her that he had signed the receipt with that phrase rather than his name. The wife was shocked, especially when her husband revealed he’d been signing their restaurant receipts that way for 10 years. Nobody had ever said a word.

The comedy Web site conducts and documents pranks. Several involve credit cards — all of which are hilarious, yet disturbing. In one, John Hargrave, Zug’s comedy producer, decided to figure out whether or not the signature on the back of a credit card really mattered, and whether it needed to match the receipt’s signature. He began signing his paper receipts with hieroglyphics, stick figures, grids, scribble — he even signed the names of Zeus, Mariah Carey and Shamu (along with a drawing of the whale). He wrote “I stole this card” in cursive on one receipt. Nobody said anything.

Hargrave got more creative with the electronic signature machines. At one business he drew a small diagram of the digestive system. Another time, he wrote a song with music notes. He was finally busted for writing “Not Authorized” as his signature in Circuit City — probably because he was attempting to purchase three flat-screen TVs totaling over $16,000. He congratulated the store for being the first to check his signature in years, and left without continuing the transaction.

Hargrave has several credit cards with fake names that he’s attained through pranks, and one day received an offer in the mail for Citi’s IdentityMontor service — addressed to one of the fake identities. In another prank, he signed up for the service but refrained from using the card for a while to give the impression it was an unused account. Then he went on a major shopping spree at Armani Exchange and signed “Stolen” as his signature. He racked up charges at Tiffany’s while posing as an incompetent thug and again signed his receipt with “Stolen.” The clerks didn’t seem to mind.

He waited for Citi to call him and say his account had been compromised. Nothing. So he went to Home Depot and bought, in massive quantities, ingredients to make a fertilizer bomb. He even sent the Citi communications officer a telegram saying the identity protection program sucked and that the telegram was bought with a stolen credit card, and gave the account number. No response, so he called Citi and antagonized the phone operator, and revealed that he wasn’t actually the person whose name was on the card. The card was canceled.

Sometimes I get the feeling that credit card security precautions are not actually used or taken seriously. These brave consumers confirm that, sadly, it is often the case. Do your best to protect your credit card information since the businesses you shop in may not always act in your best interest.

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  • Ellen Finkelstein

    I discovered that electronic signatures didn’t matter when I was at a store and was having trouble signing it. The cashier reached over and scribbled something for me. When I expressed surprise, she told me that it didn’t make any difference.