My Personal Information Personal!

When it comes to protecting my personal life, and personal information, I handle threats with tenacity, and anger. I battle against uninvited intrusions into my personal space, and go out of my way to clearly and definitively make my objections known; to leave no misunderstanding as to the point I wish to make. In recent years, the fight to live a private life; to maintain a sensible level of confidentiality; to be treated respectfully and honorably in one’s own country; has become too often disturbing.

At one point, a drug store chain bought our local pharmacy. I was not pleased, but since the chain did hire the previous owners (husband, wife and both of their daughters) — people who had handled our prescriptions for years — I allowed our records to be transferred with the sale. We hoped that ‘Bob and Family’ could maintain their high standards of customer care, but despite sincere efforts, service deteriorated. Chain policies treated us as insurance cards rather than people; caused us excessive wait times; placed the pharmacy in the back of the building so that we had to walk/shop past many aisles in order to ‘run in and pick up a Rx’. We considered closing our accounts.

Then the phone call came. An unknown young male stated, “I’m calling today to discuss your prescriptions with you.” I bit my lip, but then quickly lost my composure as I requested that he identify himself, tell his location, and explain how in the heck he accessed confidential prescription records that should have been privately on file in our small, rural Michigan town?!? I was thoroughly offended that any company would hand my family’s medical history to some lad and instruct him to phone my home to ‘discuss prescriptions’ with me (over my dead body). I immediately transferred our business to another pharmacy and I still refuse to set foot in that national chain. I wouldn’t crawl in for electrolytes, if I had zero potassium in my system!

Any time that I feel personally offended or betrayed, I am just that stubborn, and just that thorough — and today will also go down as a memorable one, I’m sure.

I was out-of-sorts when I left work this afternoon, having just discovered that I had again been assigned students with illegal, out-of-compliance files — (the teacher who failed to complete the required meetings and paperwork has been assigned my students with my intact, current files) — in another attempt to force me into cleaning up the unprofessional record keeping of another. As I struggled with thoughts of how to handle the work problem, I remembered that I needed to handle a billing error on a credit card.

I had called the company several days earlier, but was connected to an operator who spoke barely decipherable English. Tired and lacking patience, I had given up. Today my call was again answered by a thickly accented, but more understandable voice. I was asked my credit card numbers; social security numbers; mother’s maiden name; and other personally identifiable information. As I was providing everything except my hat size, I was wondering how anyone could possibly live in America for any length of time without automatically absorbing some better English phrasing and pronunciation. “Live in America…??” My radar began to hum, and I bluntly asked, “Where are you?” The gentleman said that he was in the customer service office. “No! Where are you physically located?” Finally he answered, “India.”

I was furious! I had just provided personal information, not to an American representative of an American company; not to an American immigrant representative of an American company; but to an Indian national sitting in India!! I was livid that personal and confidential information was now accessible beyond the borders of my nation — to citizens of another country, and I was stunned at such a gross violation of my privacy. I demanded that my call be transferred back to America so that I could discuss my American business with an American person working for the American company that happily received my payment each month at its American address. I was told that such a phone transfer could not be made, and I was advised to dial again, in order to be connected to an American operator. Thinking, therefore, that my call had ended up in India via some fluke of the airwaves, I dialed again, and was connected … to an operator in India! I complained, and was told that once a call arrived at the satellite, the call was routed to the first available customer service operator — at facilities all over the world. I began to seethe.

Dialing again, picturing the satellite as a huge roulette wheel in the sky, I didn’t know whether to bet on red or black. A voice answered, “Your 14-digit credit card number, please.” (I never ‘punch the number in’ when the computer tells me to, for I’ve learned that nothing is gained. The operator immediately asks for it, anyway, so why waste my time and dull my nail polish?) I ignored the question, and asked, “Where are you physically located?” The answer: “India.” I thanked her and hung up. I dialed again; refused to provide my number until the person identified their whereabouts; “Canada” and I ended the call after explaining that I meant no offense; I just preferred to discuss my personal information within the borders of my country.

I went through 3 disconnects, 5 reps in “India” and 3 in “British Columbia” before the ball stopped on my number, and I reached a pleasant young American woman in Utah. I’m not much of a gambler, and slots drive me crazy, so after all that Dialing-for-Privacy, I was ecstatic to hear an American voice based in America! I explained that I wished to open a new credit card account wherein my personal information would only be accessible to “English speaking Americans physically located in America.” The lady was very nice, but regretted that the company could not accommodate such a request. I assured her that I would therefore seriously consider closing all accounts with her company — personal, business, plain and multi-hued.

She assured me that the foreign workers had been duly screened and cleared. I explained that I did not care anything about their credentials — that I simply did not want my personal business discussed in another country. I had noticed that my card provided a ‘collect’ number for international calls, and so I asked her, “Since I’m being forced, against my will, to become an international caller, if I call this international collect number, do I stand a better chance of being connected to an American operator?” I should have anticipated the answer…”it all depends on where the satellite routs the call.” Well, at least I had finally had the chance to speak with a real, live American, physically located in America, working for a supposedly American company. She, also, explained that one could only dial repeatedly; betting on the satellite; hoping one’s call might eventually be routed to a fellow countryman grounded on American soil.

I did not solve the problem, but at least I now understand the game rules. I will never again provide personal information, or conduct any business with anyone employed by an American company but not working in America. My new policy may cost me time as I dial, and dial, and dial, — until that roulette wheel in the sky routes my call back to this country of origin — but at least I will feel as though I have a semblance of control over my personal life and personal information. I will never give my credit card numbers or any other personally identifiable information; to any operator; until he or she can successfully answer my security question, “Where are you physically located? Stateside? Great! Let’s do business!”

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