The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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10:34am on Friday, 11th November, 2011:
I mentioned the other day that I had a new AmEx card. One of the things it mentioned when I activated it was that I would have to enter my PIN when I first used it for a contactless transaction. I think the PIN is written down on a piece of paper in an envelope somewhere in my fireproof safe, but I don't know what it is. Rather than dig it out, I thought I'd use the online facility for telling me what my PIN is, so I tried it out.
In order to get my PIN, I needed to supply a 4-digit code printed on the AmEx card itself, plus the "memorable date" I supplied when I set up the card. Getting the 4-digit code wasn't so hard, but the memorable date? Hmm, I wonder what that might be?
Well, I had an idea that it would probably be made up out of the birth dates of my daughters, 09 21, so I tried that. It didn't work.
Ah, but it might have worked. The failure could have been because I gave the 4-digit code on my new card, rather than the one on my old card. I tried again, with the old 4-digit code. That didn't work either.
At this point, the online system implemented some unexpected "two strikes and you're out" policy and banned me from the web site. It said I had to phone a number on the back of the card to get it reactivated.
OK, so I called the number. The first thing the automated voice wanted to know was my full card number. The second thing it wanted to know was my memorable date. I figured that I'd better not use the one I used before as that was wrong. What was right, though? I could have dredged it up from my memory, but that would have taken up to an hour. Rather than wait, I decided instead to try the same number as before but with my daughters' birth dates the other way round. 09 21 doesn't look like a date (the ninth day of the twenty-first month) so the system could have rejected it when I entered it; if that had happened, I would have gone with 21 09, which does look like a date.
I tried that. It didn't work. The system then told me I was banned from using it and would have to speak to an operative.
Speaking to an operative involved listening to all the options and not replying to any of them until they timed out. After a little while, though, I did indeed get to speak to an operative. The first thing he asked me was what my memorable date was.
I said I'd only hazard a guess at it if he promised not to ban me if I got it wrong. He agreed. I hazarded a guess based on my and my wife's dates of birth: 24 10. It was wrong.
He asked me for my phone number. I have two phone numbers, so I gave him them both. They were both wrong. I asked if it was a mobile phone number, but he said it wasn't. He did say it was my "work number". Could he mean the one I have in my office at university? The one I've only ever had ring once in the whole of 2011 (two days ago: a prospective MSc supervisee looking for my office got lost and someone in the Law Department where he'd wound up phoned to ask how to direct him to the right place)? Well, I found a business card with the number on it and gave that. It worked!
The operative reactivated my online account, unbanned my use of the phone system, and let me choose a new memorable date. This one will cause me less of a problem because I wrote it down (encrypted, though, which may cause my wife a problem if I drop dead and she can't decrypt it).
Then the operative asked me if I dined out regularly, and tried to recommend I booked my fine dining experience through the AmEx web site that lists 9,000 restaurants that if I went to and paid for with my AmEx card I'd get double points. I didn't even know the card issued points. So much for gamification.
When I put the phone down, I remembered that the original memorable date was my wife's and my birthdays the other way round: 10 24. We're both programmers, which is why that's so memorable.
I also remembered the PIN, which I'd read once when I opened the envelope to see what was in it.
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