I have been an online

by francine Hardaway on January 17, 2006

I have been an online trader of securities since I first found out that I could be � on AOL in the early to mid �90s. Back in the day, AOL had a service of its own; or at least a service it branded as its own. Perhaps it was called PCDirect; I�ve forgotten. All too soon, that service got sold to a securities firm, and that firm in turn got sold. Over the course of the ten years I had the account, started with my AOL screen name, about five different companies have owned this account.

Now it is owned by ETrade. And that�s where the nightmare starts. Some time back, Harris Direct (my account�s most recent domicile) was bought by ETrade, along with the usual assurances that nothing would change. Same great service, only improved. Indeed, nothing did change, except that I could withdraw money by having it transferred directly to my bank account. That constituted an improvement.

One day last week, because the end of the year had past, I logged into my account to see what my tax implications would be. That�s not interesting enough to report.

The very next day, I was reading something about energy EFTs and decided I wanted to buy one. I clicked on my Harrisdirect bookmark and was redirected automatically to the ETrade site; the Harrisdirect site had simply vanished overnight. It took me a moment to find the place to login. Then it took me a couple of seconds to find out that my login no longer worked.

I scrolled down to read the instructions for Harris customers, and clicked on the �help.� This word is in quotation marks for the sake of irony. The �help� site told me a �small number� of Harris customers had been given new login information. These customers would find the information on the first page of their welcome packets.

I never recall receiving a welcome packet, probably because I moved in November and either the post office didn�t forward it, or I didn�t read it when it arrived, thinking it was just another statement. I no longer keep those when they arrive in the mail, because I know I can download them from the web site. So I just shred them unopened. The more fool me.

I clicked on �contact us.� As usual in these cases, the contact page has an email link, but when I clicked on the link I was informed that I would have to log in first before I could email ETrade. Once again, I was reminded that my log in information was in the welcome packet.

Although I hate doing this �it�s a recipe for depleted cell phone batteries, extra minutes, and frustration �I called the toll-free customer service number. I have grown to know the lady who answers these toll-free numbers quite well; she answers at a surprising array of numbers I dial. She�s the IVR lady. She usually tells me to say or press something, and often tells me she couldn�t understand what I just said and asks me to repeat it.

This time she asked for my account number, and then told me I couldn�t use the automated systems because I had to log in to the web site at least once before I was eligible to do so. The IVR lady promised to connect me to a representative.

Promises, promises. Now I know how men feel about women. The IVR woman was lying. I held for over thirty minutes, listening again and again to how important my call was to ETrade, before I had to hang up and go into a meeting. Afterwards, analyzing what my mistake had been, I realized that I had called on the day after the changeover, and that they were probably deluged by the �small number� of Harrisdirect customers whose log-ins had changed.

I determined to change my strategy and bide my time.

Four days later, I woke up in the middle of the night. It was about 3 AM the morning of Martin Luther King Day. The markets would be closed. Even on the East coast it was only 6 AM. I thought I knew my moment.

Once again, I dialed the �customer service� number for �help.� The friendly IVR lady asked me for my account number, assured me that my call was important, reminded me that I needed to log in on the site at least once before I was eligible to use the automated phone services, and cheerfully placed me on hold.

I reached for the remote and turned on the TV, a rerun of Larry King interviewing James Frey.

When I awoke, with the Bluetooth headset still in my ear on the pillow, it was daylight, and the phone battery was dead. The mendacious IVR lady had deceived me again. I�ve decided to resort to that time-honored strategy, snail mail, to close my account. If I can find a two cent stamp.`

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: