Thoughts by Richard Bleil
A friend of mine has recently had her credit card stolen. So far, it has happened to me twice. The first time, believe it or not, back in the mid 1980’s. The second time, believe it or not, is a former girlfriend in Iowa. I really should have issued a complaint through the police department where she lives because her mother works for the PD there. I thought it could be fun to just embarrass her, but, for some odd reason I elected to be nice about it and let it drop. I guess it’s just not in me to be mean.
In both cases, the thief got away with it, but here’s the odd thing. Both times, the card was used for online shopping. As such, in both cases, the credit card companies had the name, and address, of the offender provided for delivery of the ill-gotten goods. And both times, the credit card company did not act.
I don’t understand this. In the mid ‘80’s, I asked them what would happen. They said nothing (beyond crediting my account) because it would cost more to press charges than it was worth. This makes no sense to me. Any single case might cost money to press charges (although I don’t understand why; normally there is no fee associated with issuing a police complaint), but I’m thinking about the cumulative cost.
In my first “teaching gig”, there was a very small parking lot right next to the college. The student lot was right across the street, which is very nice, honestly. When I went to college, the parking lot was about a quarter mile from the main campus, and it was an uphill climb to get there. One winter I couldn’t get to campus because the ice was too slick to make it up that hill. The problem is that, even though the student lot was right across the street, at the beginning of every year there were students who felt that they should be allowed to park in the faculty lot because, they said, they were paying tuition. Never mind the fact that every faculty member there had paid tuition for their undergraduate and graduate training, and walked from student parking lots for at least nine years only to come to this two-year college to serve the needs of the students who, apparently, deserve better than their faculty.
The college had a very simple solution. They towed. There was plenty of warning with signs, and in orientation programs, and their cars were towed at their own expense. This might sound harsh, but the reality is that we only had to tow cars maybe two or three times every year. Once a car was towed, the students would spread the word, complain to their fellow students about their car being towed and the cost of its return. Once the word spread, nobody would park in the faculty parking lot for the rest of the year.
Our credit card companies are training people to steal. My ex-girlfriend had to pay for her own make-up since we could cancel that payment before it processed (I hope she was mortified), but she did get a full tank of gas out of it. Why wouldn’t she try it again? After all, there were no consequences.
For the most part, these are relatively petty thieves. The first time with me was probably the most expensive, and it was only about forty dollars. But, as I’ve said, if we start making examples of these people with fines and perhaps jail time, word will spread. The entertainment industry has done this. They struggled in the relatively early years of the internet when people were using it to do what it was designed to do, and shared music and movies. There were unauthorized sharing services, but if you downloaded enough to draw their attention, they would go after you. Usually, these cases were dropped if the offender wrote a simple apology letter with an explanation of how what they had done was illegal and hurt people. One of my former students had to write one of these letters, in fact. Today, I don’t hear of such piracy in the news anymore. I see the FBI warnings, but I don’t read stories about it. Maybe the entertainment industry has just found better ways to prevent pirated files. Or, perhaps it’s just that they have finally embraced the new technology with streaming services for relatively minimal fees.
So, there it is. My opinion. Sometimes it’s worth going after the little offenders to protect the bigger picture.