'Our Policy Is That We Don't Comply With Corporate Policies'

Steve Russell

Dear Card Services:

I do not have any dispute that will delay paying my bill but, boy howdy, I really have a dispute. This dispute just arose for the second time and I now reduce it to writing because apparently my loud and long expression of it by telephone the first time had no effect.

This evening, I got a robo-call asking me to verify three “suspicious” charges “for my protection.” The robot did not mention until the end of the call that my card use was apparently suspended pending this idiotic waste of electrons.

As I said the last time I complained, what if I had not been home? What if I had been in Canada? The Caribbean? Europe? And my primary credit card suddenly died?

The “suspicious” charges are as follows:


The Monument Café is where I often eat in this small town. That particular Walgreens is a block from my home and that sum is the copay for a prescription on my health insurance. As anyone with a pulse knows, Four Square is a portable payment processor, and that particular payment was processed in my living room, where I had asked a veterinarian to come to euthanize my elderly cat so he would not die uncomfortable and afraid (even if $200 cheaper).

While it may be odd that I will pay to avoid driving a dying animal about a mile, a charge on a portable payment processor cannot be, ipso facto, suspicious, or we shall have to cancel the turn of the 21st century. It’s not that hard to find the account registered to a veterinarian, is it?

Just like the last time I complained, these charges could only be suspicious in the mind of some nerd who wrote the algorithm you are using without departing from his mother’s basement.

Then your robot had the gall to assert that this fandango was protecting me.

As you and I both know, I am protected by federal law. I am inconvenienced by your robot to protect you. I don’t mind protecting you if the algorithm that selects transactions for “suspicion” were written by a grownup, you did not take my card off line while you protect yourself, and you did not lie to me about it, since that last part feels like insult added to injury. Once more, the injury occurs if I want to use my card while you are fooling around.

Like I said the last time I complained, it would be a hassle to close this account because I have a number of recurring charges going on it. I switched to this card for the benefits and I like them, but this is the second time I have been left scratching my head at what kinds of customers you normally serve if my boring life keeps coming up “suspicious."

It’s enough to make me….suspicious.

If you seriously think this nonsense protects me in any way, please send me a waiver and I’ll sign it and you can quit protecting me.

If you don’t, kindly quit lying about it and please adjust whatever is adjustable on my account to be sure I can keep using it. If you cannot help me, please reply and explain that you can’t help me because I want a record of this second complaint and any others I have to make.

Yours in Suspicion,

Steve Russell

The above letter is as real as the questions it raises. Yes, I’m aware that in a substantial part of Indian country, the problem with credit cards is getting one with a reasonable interest rate. Banks justify clipping the people least able to pay by calling them poor credit risks even before they default. The remedy is tribal credit unions, but that’s another column. What I complain of here, they do to everybody not named Donald Trump.

There’s a libertarian strain in US politics that I understand from having been a university professor. Most kids go through a phase in which Ayn Rand is a serious philosopher and no government at all save for national defense and national defense meaning only a response to troops landing on US soil answers all questions. This phase seldom survives the sophomore year. Hence, the name “sophomoric."

The idea of all government as a freestanding threat to freedom seldom survives adulthood because we tend to press adults into public service. When you have public responsibilities, fantasy does not serve you well.

Government has to get slapped around now and then through the political process because it functions with protocols formed to deal with too many people to be rational at all decision points. A just principle becomes unjust in practice and people get angry or some bureaucrat has sense enough to bend the rules so people don’t get angry in the first place.

Corporations, not so much.

Small businesses have to answer to the people they serve.

As they get bigger, and able to buy Congressmen, all ordinary people can do is keep ourselves prepared to tell them to hold the chicken salad between their knees and if enough people do it, we win.

Yesterday, I was helping my daughter buy a new car. Given the price of cars these days, this is something most of us may only do half a dozen times in a lifetime. She’s in her 40s, and this is her second.

We trudged into the third dealership, already tired, just wanting two numbers, since we already had financing lined up at the credit union: what did they want for the car and how much would they give for her old car?

I explained this to the 20-something car salesman as we walked in and he told me “Our policy is that to get a trade in quote you have to take a test drive.”

I turned on my heel and said, “Our policy is that we don’t comply with policies.” My daughter, being my daughter, backed me up and didn’t say a word. I fully expected he would give us the number, but he did not.

I realize that I put the kid in a tough position, both in terms of his dealership policy and his testosterone levels.

At the very next dealership, selling the same brand of car, she made her score. The “policy,” if any, had cost the kid a sale—and car salesmen typically live on commissions.

We can’t live fully in this century without encountering banks and car dealers, just like doctors and lawyers and veterinarians. It would be good if those were our kids, both the professionals and the corporate employees.

Still, corporations are more powerful than governments. The only way we can control corporations—and then only over the long haul—is to always be prepared to tell them to hold the chicken salad between their knees.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.