11212020 DMV On Consumerism

A man talks with a DMV representative at the Oregon Department of Transportation.

By Arthur Vidro

In the 1990s, I bought a telephone with touch-tone capability. But I never discarded my rotary phone. It still works.

In 2008, visiting children asked to use it. I let them dial their grandparents. They said into the phone, excitedly, “Guess what? We just dialed a telephone! Have you ever done that?” To them, dialing was a fun novelty.

I’ve gotten by without a smart phone. Just a sturdy telephone that gets plugged into a wall jack. If a phone isn’t smart, does that mean it’s dumb?

Alas, those of us without advanced phones are starting to get treated like second-class citizens.

This month my driver’s license expired. Because of the pandemic, one can no longer just show up at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). One must make an appointment. I phoned to schedule one. A recording told me I was 24th in line to speak to a human being, and suggested using their website. So I went to their website and tried to make an appointment. Everything was fine until a question insisted I provide a mobile phone number. The information was labeled “required.”

One does not, and should not, need to have a mobile phone to receive a driver’s license or an appointment. But there’s no point arguing with a website. I phoned the DMV again, waited my turn, and secured an appointment.

The DMV isn’t alone in looking down its nose at folks without mobile phones.

A couple years ago, I opened an account with PayPal. I was reluctant, never being a fan of electronic commerce. But it had become necessary if I was to keep some of my clients who live overseas.

By and large, I’ve been happy with PayPal. Haven’t heard of any hacks or lost information. To sign up for PayPal one must provide a credit card number. I decided to trust them (and to cancel the card at the first sign of misuse).

Thanks to PayPal, I now make occasional purchases of supplies over the Internet without providing a credit card number. The sale somehow gets linked to the buyer’s PayPal account, and the retailer on the other end never gets the buyer’s personal financial information.

Last month, after logging into PayPal with my account name and password, I reached a screen asking for a mobile phone number. This screen had appeared many times before, but had always included a way to ignore the request and proceed anyway.

This time, there was no way to get around the Mobile Phone request. I tried everything I could think of. Even plugged in my non-mobile phone number, but that didn’t appease the PayPal system.

From PayPal’s point of view, one must provide a mobile phone number, and then they will text a code to that mobile phone, and the recipient can then type in that code. This is intended as a security safeguard. It only has to be done once, or so they say, and then the process need never be repeated.

But this left me in the cold, without access to my PayPal account.

I tried phoning PayPal. A recording said they’re too busy to talk, go to the website, goodbye.

Somehow I stumbled onto a “live help” option, where you type in your dilemma, and a PayPal person on the other end types in a reply.

I described the problem. The “expert” on the other end, after asking for the last four digits of my credit card to verify my identity, said he would provide me with a link so I could change my password.

I explained I did not wish to change my password, was perfectly happy with my existing password, and was having no problem at all using my password. The problem was the screen that appears after one’s password is accepted.

The so-called expert wasn’t well-versed in independent thinking. He probably had a protocol to follow for all problems. And nothing in that protocol covered this problem.

Nevertheless, the idiot expert said to trust him, I should change the password, and that might clear things up.

So I changed the password. The new password was no better or worse than the old password – it was accepted, and then brought me to the Mobile Phone request that brought things to a standstill.

The “expert” said he didn’t see anything else he could do.

I asked if I could call him over the telephone. No, that wasn’t allowed. How about if I speak to other folks from PayPal over the telephone? No, that wasn’t allowed, either. But he wrote he would “authorize” me for a phone conversation with PayPal. (Guess they don’t talk to just anyone.) I asked when this call would take place, what number I should dial, and who I should ask for.

He said they would call me, but they were busy now, and I could rest assured that “within 24 to 48 hours” they would call me back. He ended the connection by promising I would regain access to my PayPal account.

I hated leaving things like that, but the big corporation held all the cards. I was just a little fish in their vast waters.

Of course, PayPal never phoned me. I’m just a tiny customer. Nobody there cares about me. Nobody there has met me. Nobody there has seen me or heard my voice. I’m just a mere person; they’re a mechanized inhuman organization.

I had to come up with a Plan B.

After thinking of all the people I knew, I decided to call Larry, a friend of mine since the 1970s. He had the qualities I needed – a smart phone, patience, willingness to spend some time, attention to detail, and a big heaping of trustworthiness.

I explained the situation, proposed giving Larry my PayPal log-in and password, and having him take it from there.

So he put the number of his mobile phone onto the screen that demanded a phone number, and after PayPal sent his phone the necessary code, he typed it in. He also checked to verify the change would be permanent, not just a one-shot deal.

And voila, the deed was done. All because I trusted Larry not to abuse having my account information.

So now I have access again to my PayPal account.

Thanks to Larry.

No thanks to PayPal, which makes folks without mobile phones feel like second-class citizens.

Arthur Vidro’s latest short story, “Ask Fred the Usher,” appears in the new anthology Mystery Most Theatrical, published in October.

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