Yesterday, I had a credit card transaction rejected which is always a little embarrassing. Thankfully, this was over the phone and not in a shop where embarrassed people would quickly avert their gaze, thinking ‘Poor man, he’s probably lost his job. Just look at his clothes’.

Normally, such rejections happen because the card number or expiry date was incorrectly transcribed and are quickly resolved - ‘No I said 6079 at the end’.

However, this wasn’t the case on this occasion, so I called the credit card company to check my card hadn’t been skimmed and someone was blowing my outrageously high credit limit (that I never asked for or wanted but was given to me by the credit card company, funnily enough) on holidays, fast cars, gambling, online retailers, weekend breaks in Prague and expensive gadgets.

Firstly, we have to dance the security dance where I am asked to confirm my full name, address, postcode, date of birth, my mother’s maiden name, the names of all my tropical fish, favourite United player and my best album of all time.

Then I am asked for the fourth and seventh letters of my password ‘without divulging the complete password’. For some reason, I find this incredibly difficult. I can type the password in seconds but, to satisfy this request, I always have to write the password out on paper and slowly identify the requested characters (or digits). Then I have to eat the paper which means I am unable to speak properly for 90 seconds.

So, let the straightforward enquiry begin. Hang on - wait a minute. The agent is sensing a cross-sell opportunity.

‘Are you interested in transferring your balance to us, interest free for 6 months ?’

‘No thanks. I only have one credit card’.

A schoolboy error. The agent has a scripted ‘retort’ ready for this very weak ‘objection’.

‘But the 6 months, interest free transfer needn’t be from another credit card. You can transfer your ABC balance to your current account, interest free for 6 months’

‘No. Thanks. I don’t have a current account with ABC. Now about this rejected trans-’

Another fatal error. Again, I have said too much and the agent has another ‘retort’ ready.

‘The current account doesn’t have to held with ABC. Any bank account will do’

‘No thanks. I do not want to use the 6 months interest free transfer offer for any credit card for any bank account now or at any time in the future.’

Finally. But wait. The agent (script) has something else to add.

‘Is is all right to call you Norman today ?’


Next time, I swear I will reply ‘No. I really would prefer it if you called me Janet.’

And so, finally, to the rejected transaction. It transpires that a sophisticated, pattern matching computer program using the latest AI techniques detected that this transaction (Flowers for the wife) contravened the normal pattern of usage (No flowers for the wife. Ever.) and flagged it up as potentially suspect.

Alternatively, “Computer says ‘No’.”

The credit card company immediately tried to contact me on the phone to verify the validity of the transaction. However, as they were unable to reach me on the phone, they rejected the authorisation and placed a complete block on the credit card. I explained that I was probably on the phone at that time to the merchant desperately trying to explain why the transaction had been rejected.

So, everything was finally resolved, and the agent kindly unblocked the card, I thanked them for their vigilance in the ongoing fight against crime and everything was back to normal.

Well, almost everything. When I got home at night, I received a deeply disturbing telephone phone call from an AI automaton who announced

‘This is a call from ABC credit cards about a transaction on your account today (normal female voice). MR NORMAN BRIGHTSIDE (abnormal, very scary, synthesized male robotic voice).

So, I duly input my date of birth in the wrong format twice and then get told off by a robot.

‘Sorry - that is incorrect. Please call customer services for assistance’.