In defense of assuming another’s identity

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My father, Burke McNamara, passed away back in December at age 89 after a long period of declining health.

As I continue to deal with the closing of his financial affairs, I’d like to offer this bit advice to all of you: If you're ever in the unfortunate position of having to close accounts, such as a VISA account, for a family member who has died, do not under any circumstances approach the task in an honest and straightforward manner.

Lie to them.

Call the help desk and assume the identity of the loved one who has passed. Cancel the account. Simple, done. Otherwise, if you tell them the truth, stupid-ass companies, such as VISA, will tell you that they require you to send them a copy of the (expletive deleted) death certificate.

VISA let me pay his bills for the last two years of my Dad's life. Monthly statements in his name were sent to my address. I signed the checks that carried both of our names; power of attorney and all. VISA cashed every single one. They have my phone number as the phone number of record on the account. I can answer all of their security questions about him. They say they'll put a "hold" on his account based on nothing but my word and knowledge of his identification details.

But to actually close the account permanently I have to make a copy of the death certificate, write and attach a cover letter, address and stamp the envelope, and trust that the USPS will get it there. Then I have to assume that letter will get opened and someone at VISA will do their job. This is according to a call center rep and her supervisor, neither of whom deserved as much crap as I gave them except that they work for a stupid-ass company such as VISA.

I could simply cut up the card – oh, yes, I have the physical card for the account VISA won’t let me close – but then I’d have to assume that the “hold” VISA has promised to place on the account will hold for perpetuity. I’d have to also assume that VISA will never allow the frozen account to fall into the wrong hands and somehow become unfrozen.

These are risks I would rather not assume, so jump through VISA’s unnecessary hoops I will.

So, to recap: What I should have done is call VISA customer service and said, "Hello, this is Burke McNamara, please cancel my account, as I have moved and it seems no one takes VISA around here."

Had I done so the account would now be closed, based on nothing but the fabricated word of a man who died back in December.

(Update: A longtime Buzzblog reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, shares his experience solving this problem: “I learned this very important lesson a few years back. I went so far as to say on the phone to customer service, ‘I'm Phyllis,’ my mom's name. They argued with me that I wasn't. I said, ‘I am. Prove it otherwise. I've answered all the security questions. I'm calling from the home phone in question. I'm simply asking you to cancel a card, not send me money or anything else.’ In the end, they had no choice but to do as I asked, because, frankly, they had no way to prove I wasn't ‘Phillis,’ baritone voice notwithstanding.”)

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