Saturday, August 29, 2015

How much is one cent worth?

Apparently more than you would think.

Today I received a letter from The Ulster Bank, remember my recent run in with them (see here)? Their envelopes are 9" x 6.5" window envelopes with printed address - not cheap I would imagine, and OK, the postage was printed matter, but from the UK (it was from the Belfast Branch) to the US has to have cost at least 50 cents if not more. Inside was a letter and a check.

So add the cost of the headed notepaper, someones time to do the book work and type up the letter, and sign it, and the cost of the check, which was in the amount of EURO 0.01.  That's correct, one cent. At a conservative estimate I would guess that it cost the Ulster Bank at least EURO 5.01 to send me 1 cent. And that in not taking into account the cost to the environment, because I am sure this is not the first time they have wasted time, money and most of all paper, for something so stupid.

It doesn't really surprise me because I worked for a bank a very long time ago, but I am still horrified by the waste. Had they asked me at the time of closing the account, if I would donate any possibly outstanding interest due in order to save this ridiculous situation I would have not only been delighted to do so, I would have been extremely impressed. It could even be stipulated any outstanding interest up to a certain amount - say EURO 10.00.

The letter also encourages me to deposit the check with 6 months. So, though  I would not incur much of a cost to deposit it, as our Credit Union allows us to do so on our mobile phone through their app. But that is where the expense would definitely accrue. There would be a foreign exchange fee and no doubt a fee for handling a non US check.

No, I won't be depositing it. Perhaps I will frame it.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Cross Cut Shredders

If you don't have one, you should.  I am amazed by how many people throw what they consider to be benign items, into the trash. My rule is, if it contains my name, address, phone number, SSN (of course) or any information what so ever about me, it gets shredded, and that means cross shredded, after which it goes into the recycle. Actually, I frequently shred stuff that really doesn't need to be shredded - but it gets recycled so I see no harm in it. If you have ever been stalked you will do the same. I highly recommend you do so before rather than later - not to mention the risk of identity theft, though I have to say the bank appear to be practically giving that information away, so shredding a few bills will not do a lot of good.

Here is a synopsis of one of the chapter's in my book to explain why I am not being paranoid by shredding everything. (My book is  a memoir and every word in it is true).

When I met Sam he was on the rebound.  I was aware that he was totally obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, but I convinced myself that as our relationship developed, he would forget her.  The strange thing is that he was not really terribly interested in me while we were dating.  He actually told me that I could never live up to his previous girlfriend, whom he still loved.

He was a retired Army officer, of independent means, youthful, active and great fun. A man of honor, he frequently told me.  I started to worry when he told me that he had been watching his ex-girlfriend’s house, and had taken photographs of the license plates on her visitors’ cars. Later looking them up on the Internet. It became obvious that he was spending long hours on the Internet - frequently as many as 8 hours a day, tracking down as much information as he could on the ex-girlfriend and anyone who came in contact with her.  I just hoped that he would get over it.

It was when he told me that he had been by his ex-girlfriend's house one night, and noticing that the next day was garbage day, he threw two big black plastic bags from outside her house, into his truck.  He took those bags home, emptied them out on his kitchen floor and spent the entire night sifting through them.  It really scared me to discover that he found telephone bills, from which he tracked down all the people she called, again using the Internet. He made copious notes about her lifestyle, noting what she was eating, where she was shopping, buying her gas, and many other details - all from her garbage. That day I bought a cross-shredder. And since then I have shredded everything that will go through it, before disposing of it. I was relieved that at least he did not ‘love’ me. I would not be subjected to such attention.

Needless to say, we broke up shortly after that. For a few weeks I heard nothing more of him. Then he started phoning and emailing me.  At first I chatted casually with him, but I began to realize that he was hoping to get back together, and so I avoided contact with him totally. That is when he started phoning me in the early hours of the morning, leaving drunken, abusive messages on my answering machine. Sending me abusive emails.  I continued to ignore him, thinking he would get bored. I was wrong. Things got very unpleasant. One Thursday evening, I headed off for a long weekend of seminars being held in a hotel just outside town. My friend, Kim, was staying in my house while I was gone. She had been visiting from California and was happy to look after the house for me.

I got settled in my hotel room by about 9.30 p.m., when my mobile phone rang and, without thinking, I answered it to hear Sam’s voice - I hung up immediately. At about 10.30 Kim called me to say that Sam had called the house and been abusive on the phone to her. She said that she told him that she was not surprised that I didn’t want to talk to him again. He called her back a few moments later and told her that he would report her to the local police. That was when she called me - she was nervous and frightened at that stage. I calmed her down as best I could, saying that there would be no point in him calling the local police. What could he say to them?  She had done nothing wrong after all.  As we spoke on the phone, I could hear a pounding on my front door - it was now after 11 p.m. Kim was terrified.  With me still at the other end of the phone, she answered the door.  It was the local police - and they had woken the entire neighborhood. They asked Kim if she were me, and in her terror she agreed that she was. Fortunately they didn’t ask for identification. They said that my ex-boyfriend had called them and asked them to come to my home, as he feared that I was in danger from my house guest. Kim managed to convince the police that she was fine and they left.  Immediately, Kimberly packed her bags and headed back to California.

I don’t ever remember being so angry in my entire life. I was furious and as soon I hung up the phone, I dialed Sam’s number and let him have it. I told him that I never wanted to see him again, nor speak to him again. That if he ever came near me, I would report him to the police as a stalker. I thought that would be the end of it.

A number of weeks went by and I heard no more from Sam.  Then a mutual friend told me that Sam had been watching me, and had told her that he ‘knew my every move’. I realized that I was being subjected to yet another form of abuse, and I reported him to the local police, reminding them of the false alert he had called into them previously. They made a note and told me to keep a log of any further contact.  He did contact me again, sometime after that, but luckily I had finally found a man who was honest and good, who really did love me. He warned Sam off and I have heard nothing more from him since.

As always, there is a wiki for that.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Never leave home without a utility bill

Why? You just never know when you have to prove your identity, and believe it or not, there are still businesses that do not consider passports to be valid proof of identity.

Some time ago I wrote about Customer Service but my most recent experience forces me to revisit this subject. It just amazes me that some companies do not value their customers, nor do they realize how much it damages their business to not pay enough attention to each individual customer. We all have relatives and friends and almost everyone has a Facebook account.

When I left Ireland, 21 years ago, I kept my bank account in the Ulster Bank in Baggot Street in Dublin open. Partly because at that time, I was not certain I would not be returning. I had vowed to give it two years in the US before I made any decisions, but if I did return, it would be useful to have my existing bank account still operational and I really like the Manager and staff there at that time.

Although I decided after six months, that I was going to stay in Texas, I found it useful to have an account in an Irish bank, it was partly nostalgia and partly practical - occasionally I received Irish checks and just had them deposited there for spending money when I visited and, in the first few years, before my US ATM card actually worked in Ireland, it was useful for cashing US checks should the need arise. I never had more than Euro 500 in the account, and in the last few years, I had a balance of Euro 59. I also had a current ATM card for that account.

At the beginning of the year I received a letter from Ulster Bank advising that as my account had been inactive for some time, they would mark it dormant unless I confirmed that I wanted it to remain active. I responded immediately asking them to keep it active as I would be using it on my next visit.

Despite that, when I attempted to use my ATM card in an Ulster Bank ATM machine in Dublin, it was declined as 'Inactive Account'. I called into the bank the following day and after a long wait, I was seated in an open area in the bank, beside a particularly rude man, John Moriarty, an unpleasant, self important man.

It is amazing to me that some people cannot be polite. Nothing he said would have come across as rude, but the tone of his voice, his body language and facial expressions made it an extremely unpleasant experience. I explained that I had requested that my account be maintained active, and that I needed to withdraw Euro 40. He told me that I had received a letter advising me to bring proof of identity to the bank - I had not received any such letter, but he insisted that I had. I handed over my TX drivers licence - with photo and address, the address matching that on my account. I had my US Passport and my Irish Passport, both with photos and both current, and for good measure I had my US Credit Union check book, also showing my address. He said none of these were acceptable. I needed either an Irish drivers licence or a utility bill. I explained to him that I had lived in the US for 21 years and therefore did not have an Irish driver's licence and that I didn't think to bring a utility bill with me when traveling internationally.

The man was so unpleasant (and thankfully I didn't actually need the Euro 40), I told him to give me back my various items of identity and I left. As soon as I got to a computer I registered a strong complaint online with Ulster Bank - I was advised to return to that branch and ask to see a manager, or go to another branch.

Next day I returned to the branch where I had held my account for so long. I asked to see a manager and was immediately swept into a far corner by a young man who assured my that the manager, Gerry Bolger, was on vacation for the entire week. I explained my problem to him and demanded to close my account. He told me I needed a utility bill, at which point I asked him if the Ulster Bank was going to keep my 59 euro because I neglected to carry a utility bill on vacation with me. I also told him that I had registered a strong complaint about his colleague online the previous day and that the customer service representative I had spoken to had advised me to speak with a manager.

Those readers who know me, know that I am not inclined to make a fuss. But that is not to say I won't fight for what I believe is right. I will pick my battles but once I have decided to fight I won't back down. And I didn't back down this time. I refused to budge until finally Mark (that was the whispering young man's name) agreed to override the ridiculous utility bill requirement (I almost wish I had one because I am sure they would refused to accept it as it wasn't from an Irish utility supplier) and finally I was able to close the account and get my cash.

It was with mixed feelings that I left the bank. Triumphant that I had stood my ground and got my money. Sad because I had cut another tie to my past, but proud that I was able to cast off that tie - something I probably should have done long ago. But most of all, sad because my fight was such a small ripple in the ocean of banking and they will never be aware of the negative knock on effect that will most definitely have on their business.

It is really not rocket science. Every customer is important. It is not just the few dollars or Euro or whatever other currency is involved, it is the word of mouth, and with social media as powerful as it is, this is not something to be ignored. But I guess Banks still think they are above that.

I have added to my checklist when packing 'utility bill' - I am guessing I will never need it.