Friday, 28 September 2007 at 19:39
I can remember a time when only the privileged few were allowed to have a cheque book, when they didn’t just dish them out to any Tom, Dick or Harry, when being able to pay by cheque was the mark of a gentlemen. Well, actually I don’t but I have heard about that mythical time from people who are a tad older than me but that’s not the point. Have you tried paying by cheque lately? I have and the whole experience had me reaching for the safety catch of my pistol because it was symbolic of everything that I detest about this festering country of ours encapsulated in a conversation spanning only a couple of minutes.
Having printed my cheque the apathetic little tosser behind the counter offered it back to me for signature and as I was signing it he threw in, almost as an aside and clearly hoping that I might be still slightly hung over from Friday night at the pub and not notice, can you put your postcode and door number on the back.
“What?” I said trying to ease him in gently
“Can you put your postcode and door number on the back?”
Clearly previous cheque transactions had never reached this point, either that or I had gone wildly off-piste with this convoluted and difficult question and thrown him into a tailspin.
“No,” I said, “not what, why?”
I could almost see the petechiae blossoming in his eyes.
“Why do you want me to put my postcode and door number on the back of the cheque?
We were obviously back on safer ground with this question because he rattled of the party line almost without pause. “It’s a security measure.”
“Really? How does that work then?”
The thousand yard stare returned with a vengeance.
“No, we’ve done “why” and “what” and moved on to how at this point.”
At this point he looked round for assistance but his colleagues on adjacent pay points were very shrewdly averting their eyes in that way that we British have developed into a fine art whenever there’s “a scene”.
“Let me clarify,” I said extremely slowly. “In what way does my writing my postcode and door number on the back of this cheque make any part of this transaction more secure?”
“Do you want to speak to the manager?”
“Not particularly. If he’s responsible for sending you out so ill equipped to answer questions, that suggests that he’ll be no more help than you’re being at this point. Look, this isn’t quantum physics, I just want you to expand on your claim that this additional information will make this transaction more secure in some as yet unspecified way.”
There followed what I can only describe as a pregnant pause in the sense that the expression of concentration on his face gave the impression that he was in the extreme stages of labour. After several moments of my staring into his mute face with one eyebrow raised he had a moment of inspiration.
“Supposing,” he said, “ someone had stolen your wallet and chequebook and was writing a cheque they wouldn’t know your postcode and door number would they?”
“Quite right, they wouldn’t.” Then as the relief of slipping through the fingers of a predator flooded his face I added, “and neither would you so I could write anything on the back of that cheque and you would have no idea whether it was correct. So how does that constitute a security measure?”
I’ll swear at this point I heard him sob and experienced a momentary sensation of pity but you can’t let them see weakness like that because they will just use it against you.
“Another minor flaw in your reasoning,” I said holding up my wallet. “Let’s just say that I have stolen this wallet and that chequebook from its rightful owner. I come in here, write out a cheque and when you ask me to write my postcode and door number on the reverse of the cheque, what do I do? Do I hold up my hands and say, ‘It’s a fair cop. Governor, you’ve got me bang to rights’. No I take the owner’s driving licence out of the wallet and get them from that.”
And just to hammer home the point I took out my driving licence and held it out for him to see.
Of course none of this had the slightest impact because they were always going to get the information as long as I wanted the very expensive shirt that had been reduced by 50%. And I did want it.
What pisses me off, well aside from being treated like a simpleton, is that there’s no necessity for any of it. I gave them a £100 cheque guarantee card that means that they will always get their money irrespective of whether I have the funds to cover it. So why the party games. And more to the point where does all this bollocks stop?
Well the logical destination for this type of intrusive commercial fascism is the following scenario.
“That will be £35 please, sir. Oh, you want to pay by cheque! Well that will be fine, sir, if I can just take you through our security procedures. Firstly, could you just write your name on the back of the cheque…… and your address…..your postcode….. PIN number, National Insurance number, height, weight, date of birth, shoe size, inside leg measurement and car registration. I take it that you’ve brought the required documentary evidence of identity: cheque guarantee card, birth certificate, passport, signed affidavit from the obstetrician that delivered you. Good, good, on to the next stage. That’s lovely. Now if you could just roll each finger and both thumbs on the inkpad then press your fingerprints in the appropriate boxes on the card. Excellent. Okay, face the camera looking straight ahead (click) now the left profile (click) and the right (click) and just to be on the safe side we’ll do the back too (click). Great! Just step to your left; that’s it. Now stare straight into the lens, very still, while I do the retinal scan. Okay, nearly done now. Open wide. That’s it, just a tiny swab for our DNA database. Now if you could just check the details on the front of the cheque and sign it….I’ll just draw off some nice thick arterial blood for you to use and we’re all finished. There you are, sir, Thanks for shopping with VTD and we look forward to seeing you again.
Do you take Switch?
While we’re on the subject of security whilst shopping just a quick word about Chip & Pin. You remember when they first announced this how they said that it was much safer than the old system where you signed for your transaction because anyone could forge your signature but only you would know your personal identity number?
Well you would need a Rosetta Stone to decipher my signature whereas my PIN? Well since most High Street stores insist on mounting their Chip & Pin machines on poles at chest height with the display and the keypads facing outwards then my number is an open secret for anyone standing within an arc of about 120 degrees immediately behind me. We can all sleep safely in our beds knowing that the security of our money is safe in the hands of the national commercial enterprises.
Friday, 28 September 2007 at 19:38
At the Trafford Centre recently while I was waiting for my wife to re-emerge from the Bermuda Triangle or, as it’s known to millions of bored and abandoned males, the ladies’ toilet I was idly scanning my surroundings when my eye lighted on a sign. The sign was attached to the door of a disabled toilet (that’s a toilet for the disabled not one that isn’t working) or a baby changing room or some other alternative to the mainstream, and I use the word advisedly, facilities.
The sign said: “ Caution! This door opens outwards do not stand immediately in front of it.” Reasonable enough I hear you say. In this litigious society in which we live the management of the Trafford Centre is simply protecting itself against a possible compensation claim by someone who was knocked unconscious by a door that opens in an unconventional manner. Ah, if it stopped there then I wouldn’t be writing about it, would I? No, the absurdity that drew my attention to this sign was that the PC fascists had obviously been at work bending the universe to their own idiosyncratic world view. Below the warning message the same words had been repeated but in Braille!!!!.
Now this begs two questions. Firstly how is a blind person supposed to read the message without doing precisely what it is instructing you not to do? Secondly, if they can’t see, and this is generally a prerequisite of being treated as blind, then how do they know that the sign is there?
Is it just me?