Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Sears: The Odyssey

Let me start off by saying that I was not a good Sears cardholder in the past. I recognize that fact and freely admit it. I was horrible with paying my bill even close to on-time, and during my time of unemployment and low paying jobs it wasn't even close to the top of my list of people who needed my money.

Times have changed. I can afford to make the payments and seriously desire getting the damned thing paid off and out of my life. The problem is I'm still no better than I ever was with getting things mailed on time, and the two local Sears stores are both way out of my way in my general day-to-day travels.

However I found out that Sears offers its cardholders the ability to pay their bill online. That works fantastically with me and Visa. I'm never late with them, and can usually pay a bit extra from time to time. I thought, "that would work out perfectly and perhaps Sears would learn to forgive my past financial transgressions over time."

Here's the catch: You have to have a card that was issued within the last, I dunno, six years or so. Because it has to have a 3-Digit Verification Code for you to even SET UP YOUR ACCOUNT! God forbid some STRANGER logs in and pays my bill (I understand that other things can be done to your account, but seriously there should be some way to work around this).

My account was started in 1991, and the last time I ordered a replacement card was apparently in 1997. So, no 3-Digit code.

But there was a link to click if you did not have the code and it said: "If you have a Sears Card and do not have a 3-digit verification code, please call 1-800-917-7700. Follow the instructions to request a replacement card. After receiving the new card with the 3-digit code, please return to www.SearsCard.com to register and enroll your account at that time. Thank you."

Okay. I would report my card as damaged (which it is, it's all kinds of messed up:



dead magnetic strip and starting to crumble.) and I should get a replacement card that had the 3-Digit code. Easy.

So three weeks ago I did that, and at the end of all the freakin' button pushing that seems to be mandatory when dealing with any corporation these days I was transferred to Customer Service because there had been a processing error of some kind.

When I finished explaining everything to the actual human who answered the phone, she said they couldn't issue a new card for that account but she would transfer me to their computer people and they might be able to help me get my online account set up.

After explaining what I was trying to accomplish to their computer guy on duty he said, "I'm looking at this and it says your account is closed. Everything is being transferred to a new account number and you should receive a new card in about a week. Which is a good thing because I can't get you around needing that verification code. Bye."

Well, okay then! All should be good.

Cut to last Sunday night at 8 pm when I get a call from the company who handles Sears' deadbeat cardholders. The woman I spoke with was a horrible, collection services employee. You know the kind, they immediately assume that everything spilling forth from your mouth is a lie and that everyone would be better served if you were just shot in the head rather than listened to any longer.

Actually it didn't start off like that, but it certainly devolved to it.

She: "Hello, I'm calling on behalf of (whoever it is that handles this: I think it's Citigroup) regarding your Sears charge account. I need to make arrangements for you to pay $35 on your Sears account as soon as possible."

I explain how I don't know what my account number is because my account was closed and I am waiting on my new card at which point I will be logging right on, setting up the account and making a payment. That's when her tone took a turn for the nasty.

"I can go ahead and set up an automatic checking account deduction over the phone and get you current."

No. I'm not keen on that. I don't tell her this but I NEVER set up an automatic deduction of any kind that I don't have any kind of paper trail for. I'm far too paranoid. Not gonna do that. So I say, "No thank you. I would rather pay online or in the store, but since I know the account number has changed I didn't think I could pay in the store without the new number or a new bill."

She: "I need you to set up a payment date today. When can you make a payment in the store?"

Me: "How can I make a payment in the store if I don't know the new account number?"

She (in mocking sing-song tone most people reserve for their inferiors): "DO you know your name? DO you know your social security number? DO you know your address? Then you can give them that information at the store and make a payment."

Me (in a cold tone I reserve for people who have pissed me off by talking down to me): "I think I would rather find out where my new card is and pay online."

She: "Fine. I will put down that you refuse to make a payment."

Me (Arrrrrrgh!): "I'm not saying that I won't make a payment, I just want to find out what has happened with my new card."

She: "And I need a date when you will have the payment in the store. You can call customer service to find out about your account. You DO still have their number DON'T YOU? Since you ALREADY called them before."

Me (totally pissed, wishing I could injure long distance with my mind): "Yes, I have their number. I'll make a payment on the 15th."

She: "Fine. I'll make note of it in your account."

Me: "Fine."

*click*

Today I called customer service, hoping there would be good news. There isn't. I was informed by a considerably nicer woman (but seriously, who wouldn't be nicer) that my old account was in fact closed, but I will not be issued a new card because purchase activity has been suspended on my account. Yeah, like 10 years ago.

"Okay," I said, mind already trying to think of a way around this, "How do I make a payment in the store if I won't be getting a new card?"

She: "You will have to give the person at the counter your name, your address and your zip code and they'll make sure it goes to the right account."

Me: "And I'm going to have to do this every time from now on?"

She: "Yes. Sorry."

...

So now, rather than finding a way to make it far easier to pay my Sears card off, regularly and on time, it's the same as it ever was and a bit worse. My Sears card would seem to be my own personal albatross. I don't think I'll ever be rid of it.

And to Sears: Your company is too large and too distanced from everyday people if there isn't a way to work around this for an account that can't even be used to purchase ANYTHING.

Perhaps I'll send this along to someone there and see what comes of it.

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