Keeping Your Info Safe on Public Transit, and Unrelated Irony

We hear about identity theft precautions all the time.  Always shred documents before discarding them.  Empty your mailbox every day.  Don’t share your credit card number with someone who calls you on the phone and tells you there’s a misdemeanor warrant for your arrest, and paying a fine will resolve the matter (and please don’t judge people who have fallen for this scam.  The callers know how to induce panic).

Other precautions are less practical to carry out, so we have to decide how many risks we’re willing to take for our convenience or to make a system more efficient.

Some vending machines accept electronic payments only.  There aren’t a lot of them, but if you use vending machines always be ready for the possibility that the crisp five dollar bill you’ve kept in reserve in the back of your wallet will be worthless for buying something on short notice.  Then hope no one has installed a skimmer to steal your account info.

Electronic-only vending machines can save on overhead costs.  Although businesses and agencies are charged a fee for each transaction, they don’t have to deal with the formalities of removing cash from machines.  The electronic-only policy isn’t comfortable for customers who find it safer to remain anonymous, though.

I’m amazed at how many passengers are comfortable putting credit or debit cards into a transit fare card machine — on the subway.  Even the most modern underground stations have a mildly ominous feel to them, so how can people do that confidently?

Every one of the transit fare card machines I’ve used offers the option of paying with cash, and that’s how I always do it.  Just keep a few clean, untorn bills handy and it’s workable.  No one has grabbed a bill out of my hand yet, but if that ever happens I’ll be glad my checking debit card isn’t in full view.  I’m also free of worries that the card reader has been compromised because it doesn’t affect me.

At the end of this post, find the link to a story by Nikki M. Mascali on the site, suggesting anxiety is suffered by New Yorkers when a transit system temporarily demands cash only.

Okay, the original controversy was due to an announcement — on short notice — that MetroCard machines would go cash-only for an entire weekend, plus a few hours.  That may have been an unreasonable burden for some people, and the MTA has revised the plan to make it less stressful.

I don’t get it.  We still have ATMS.  Some ATMs are in locked booths inside of banks, which makes them less intimidating than the local transit station.  People can get cash.  What’s with the nail biting?

Oh, well.  Different frames of reference.  Personally, if I have to add value to my MetroCard in some grungy station in a dicey part of town, there’s no way I’m paying with plastic.  I’ll take my chances with paper currency.

A message to New Yorkers:  You withstand bad weather, crowded conditions, infestations and all manner of urban horror.  If you’re in the subway system during the wee hours of the morning this Saturday, you already expect to see something weird.  If the cash-only status on a vending machine is the most bizarre thing you encounter between midnight and six a.m., consider yourself blessed.  Then be sure to tip the guy in the clown suit who sings I’ll be Seeing You a capella.

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