2011, Personal

Statistical patterns based upon past behavior cannot predict individual choices OR: Why we have PINs

I spent all my money on beer and food the first two days of the Wolfe Island Music Festival. That’s okay, I had a good time. But I should have brought more with me. I know that now. Next time.

I wanted to eat something on Sunday before we got on the ferry. We would be there a while as it was Sunday afternoon and the Sunday afternoon ferry line on Wolfe Island is notorious. I figured I’d get my money from one of the ATMs on the island, since there is no bank that I am aware of. I thought this was a perfectly reasonable decision for someone out of cash and wanting food of some kind (a hot dog, anything).

I went to one of the two general stores in Marysville. It was one of those independent ATMs, but the charge is only $1.50. Still, thinking I might as get my money’s worth, I decided I would take out whatever the maximum was since I was both giving some company my $1.50 and also using up one of my “free” withdrawals from TD. The maximum was $120. I selected that. After a bunch of buttons were pressed and the machine contacted someone, presumably my bank, I received an error message to the effect that this particular machine didn’t serve my bank. Now that is odd, given that I am a TD client, but who knows? I was on Wolfe Island after all.

So I went to the other store. This time I received another error message implying that they were having trouble contacting the bank. I thought about it and then something occurred to me: perhaps both machines were short on cash since the WIMF had just occurred and who knows how frequently they are filled up. Perhaps I should try a lesser amount? I did to no avail.

My brother bought me lunch.

Unbeknownst to me, a computer program in some far away location that I was unaware of had decided that this mysterious user posing as the customer known as “Riley Haas” was performing withdrawals utterly unexpected of “Riley Haas.” Therefore it could not be “Riley Haas” and so the “Riley Haas'” account was set on the self-explanatory “Deposit Only”, though of course no one bothered to or explain it to actual the customer, Riley Haas.

Hours later I skipped out on buying dinner, having spent way too much money over the weekend, and therefore avoided the embarrassment of some fast food guy telling me my account was frozen.

This program was unaware of the WIMF. This computer program was not aware that sometimes people go to music festivals with only a handful of money. This program was unaware that sometimes people spend more money than they intend to while drinking. This program was not aware that a person who had blown his money on booze might deviate from his behaviour patterns on account of such excesses, thinking it entirely reasonable (not to mention necessary!). This program was unaware there are no TD banks on Wolfe Island. This program was not aware I am a cheapskate and always want my money’s worth of ATM user fees.

Oblivious, I returned home, fortunately not needing any money, to discover a canned message on machine from the “Loss Prevention Hotline.” I called them back and they put me on hold until I had to limp out the door for work. (I have so far neglected to mention I broke two toes Sunday afternoon while attempting to swim in too-shallow water.)

On lunch, I limped over to the local TD – my home branch – and discovered that despite my possession of my bank card – the one that was supposedly lost, or being prevented from being lost, or what have you – and photo ID, I was told that in order to resolve the situation (whatever it was) I would have to call the number. They couldn’t do it at my branch. All they could tell me was that the account was “deposit only” (the first I’d heard of that). This seemed more than a little absurd to me, since I was standing there in the flesh with my bank card in TD’s possession, and my photo ID, but I am not one to make scenes.

I spent the rest of lunch talking to the “Loss Prevention Hotline” because I was worried. You see the teller told me that such calls regarded attempted frauds and that it was “very important” I call. I made an assumption that I had used one or more of those fraudulent ATMs you read about in the paper, which copy your card info and use it to rob you. I was a little worried.

But no, there was no attempted fraud. Rather, TD finally informed me that their program calculated that I was not behaving normally and that therefore I could be someone else. Somehow the next logical step was to essentially suspend my account.

TD did not attempt to contact me before doing this they just did it because in the year prior I had always taken money out of only a couple specific TD machines and almost always in intervals of 100.

The thing is, I have free will. I do things that cannot be predicted by machines. I may not know why I do them – though I know why I tried to use those ATMs – and that is something a program can never understand. And this is why banks have access cards with PIN numbers: because we people never know when we need money. I thought that was the point. But apparently TD believes that you should always alert them when you go on holiday – even when you are staying in your own province – or that you should only abide by previous habits when withdrawing money.

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