Soap Box


My son and I have had discussions about how crime would rise due to the failing economy. And sure enough, I've been robbed twice this year, a first for me in Duluth. Last April, the son of an old friend slept overnight on my couch when he came to town ostensibly to visit his teenage daughter at St. Mary's.  Dropping him off at the hospital, I also dropped off my meager electronics collection. Somewhere on his person were a Canon PowerShot with leather case; a tiny digital tape recorder; HotShot flashing, rechargeable front and tail bike lights, and several restaurant gift cards, all presents from my sons. Talk about feeling disappointed in a young man I had known for years.

Episode two was in November. After dropping off clothes at a Central Hillside clothing exchange, I took some time to look at the rows of books across the hall. My fannypack (my mobile office) was on the floor near my feet. A man stopped to ostensibly look at books, striking up a conversation about Scholastic workbooks. He picked one up, then left.

He had also picked up my fannypack. After reporting to 911, I called my local credit union. The customer service rep obstensively cancelled my debit card and closed my checking account, instructing me to pick up temporary checks at the nearest branch (regrettably, their Hillside facilities are gone).  My second credit union would not cancel accounts over the phone, but required I travel to a branch to shut things down. So I crossed the bridge to Superior.

While waiting for the right person to help me, I asked the wrong person if I could call a third credit union in St. Paul, cell phone being in fannypack. The rep wouldn't authorize a long distance phone call so I waited till the right person at last became available. St. Paul also wanted me face to face. Insisting the 150 mile drive would make it too late, I was next told that 8 minutes and 14 minutes earlier, my debit card had been hit up at ATM's in the Twins Bar, and across the street at Essentia. A bit late, they shut my accounts down.

This tedious story just gets untidier, because it's one thing that someone purported to be homeless swiped my stuff (yes, there was a video cam that caught all the bookshelf action, and yes, staff knows the guy by name), but it's another when your credit unions fail you in the lurch. I next drove to the Duluth cu to discover not only do they not issue temp checks, but that they had no record anyone at their call center had done anything with my account. So I closed my accounts AGAIN. Although St. Paul contact center rep said he had closed my accounts and that I would be reimbursed, when I tooled down at Thanksgiving,  I was told face-to-face that my checking account had not been closed, which I then closed AGAIN, and that I would have to eat the $500+.

I'm a believer in the cooperative nature of credit unions, making a philosophical and political choice to do business with them vs with commercial banks.

As a member/owner,I have called on all three of my cu's to do better. And sure enough, a vice-president in St. Paul eventually said they would cover the fraudulent debits, and a contact center manager in Duluth wrote me a letter of apology saying they were developing a better approach in communicating with victims of fraud.

Other upshots of my misadventures? Numbers of people are down and out, and some of the needy will resort to taking your important things. So wear your fannypack and don't make it your office. Carry only one or two checks. Credit unions are owned by us, and sometimes need reminding they must serve us.

Maybe the robbery in front of a camera was really a call to be jailed. It's -7 degrees today, and far too many homeless people die on the streets. Todd Niemi talked to me a few minutes before I lost my 'office'. Maybe he saw who took my stuff