Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My own personal M&A frenzy

Continuing my track record as an identity theft lightening rod, I got yet another of the "we've noticed some unusual charges on your account ..." calls this weekend. But this time, I was wholly innocent; my habit of using skanky ATMs bears no blame. The charges hit a card I haven't used for years. Seriously, how easy are these algorithms to crack?

I remain impressed that the credit-card companies are as good as they are at sussing out what transactions are fraudulent. In this case, I guess it wasn't so tricky -- a card unused for years is suddenly broken out for a wild shopping bonanza -- but full credit to Chase for catching this and calling me just hours after it started.

However, it did raise an interesting issue: The rep asked if I preferred to have another card issued or cancel the account. In past years, I don't recall that being a choice; the companies would do almost anything to keep you an active customer. Seems this account of mine (credit limit, $6,000ish) was a potential credit liability Chase didn't mind killing off.

Here's what made me decide to cancel the account: I didn't know at first which Chase account they company was calling about.

The piece of plastic in my wallet that I use most often is my Amex, my primary credit card. Beyond that, I have my bank-account debit card, a MasterCard. I also have (had) two backup cards, both Visas, which only ever get used if a place doesn't take Amex.

My oldest Visa -- the one that got hacked this weekend -- began life years ago as a Providian card. Then WaMu bought Providian, and suddenly I had a WaMu card. Around that time, I picked up a Chase Visa card, as a backup. My primary bank was Netbank, so my financial life was nicely diversified. Plastic tally: 1 Amex credit card, 1 Netbank debit card, 1 WaMu credit card, 1 Chase credit card.

Then Netbank met its unfortunate end, I went bank shopping, and I landed at WaMu. Plastic tally: 1 Amex credit card, 1 WaMu debit card, 1 WaMu credit card, 1 Chase credit card.

Then, of course, WaMu also went the firey-death-in-flames route, and Chase snapped up their charred remains. My plastic tally: 1 Amex credit card, 1 Chase debit card, 2 Chase credit cards.

Which is kind of absurd. I don't need both my backup credit cards to be with the same bank. So, despite mild pangs of regret about the potential FICO effects of reducing my total available credit and closing one of my older credit lines, I waved adios to the ProvidianChaseWaMu card.

But I'm left wondering -- with all the financial melting down, will we have more than one American bank left at the end? My forecast for next year: My plastic tally will all be Wells JPMorgan Sachs credit cards.