Advice

Miss Information: Is my credit-card company policing my perviness?

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Have a question? Email erin@nerve.com. Letters may be edited for length, content and clarity.

Dear Miss Information,

I’m looking for some feedback. Recently, I purchased some sex toys online. Within minutes of finalizing my purchase (which came in just under one-hundred dollars), I received a phone call from the fraud department of my credit-card company. They were calling to verify the recent activity on my account. I gave the okay and that was that. The strange thing is, this is the second time this has happened: the first time was when I made a similarly priced purchase from the same company two years ago. My credit-card company has never called me about any other activity on my card, and I’ve made purchases upwards of a thousand dollars. It seemed random the first time and bizarre the second. Have you ever heard of anything like this? — Playing Without Privacy?

Dear Playing Without Privacy?,

Don’t worry your pervy little head. Think of me as Ralph Nader in drag meets McGruff the Crime Dog. I am so on it.

First, I went to the website of your sex-toy company and checked out their “About Us” section. Looks like they’ve been slinging “marital aids” for several decades, the spelling and grammar are more or less correct, and the graphic design is decent. This is not to say that a scam site can’t be well-executed, because some certainly are. But it’s a good sign that the site’s not a maze of broken frames, MIDI files on auto-play, scrolling banners and pop-ups.

After checking out the user reviews (most positive, and most apparently written by native English speakers in different voices), I checked out their Privacy Policy. Although they pull the usual, “We reserve the right to share your personal information with quality third-party companies that may interest you. . .” blah blah blah — which means you’ll probably get some junk mail — they appear to be pretty careful about what shows up on your card. You won’t be seeing “Twenty-Inch Butt Destroyer” on your statement alongside your grocery charges.

I went ahead and ordered something from them, just to, you know, make sure we were covering all the bases. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’m up working late, trying to finish this column and a book (more on that in a future column), and a girl tends to get a tad antsy during the wee hours. Anyway, it’s been three days and I haven’t received any strange calls. My credit-card statement has the same innocuous-looking company name promised on the website.

What the hell is happening, then? Is there a stalker at the credit-card company? Does hearing you recite your mother’s maiden name, knowing that you recently bought something scandalous, help him get his nut off?

I doubt it. I’d guess the activity looks unusual because either you don’t normally make purchases online, or the sex toy company — either by nature of what they do, or some aspect of their shipping/fulfillment process — automatically sends up a red flag at your credit-card company. Or perhaps your bank is pushing a paid, privacy-protection program and it’s just a coincidence that they happened to call when your purchases were of the naughty variety.

Less likely, it could be some sort of scammer calling to get your credit card number. Are you sure it’s the bank on the other end of the line? You know you’re not really supposed to give out your number unless you’re the one initiating the call, right? Here are more ways you can be careful.

If you’re still annoyed, call your bank and ask them what gives, or open up a new credit card. As long as your credit report looks clean and there’s no unlawful activity, I wouldn’t worry about this too much. But it’s good to be vigilant about invasions of privacy. For instance: I’d rather have some credit-card employee giggle about my dildo, than have a health-insurance company deny coverage after learning about an old, five-pill Valium prescription. This happened to a close relative of mine. Lovely, huh? It’s good you’re questioning, but sounds like in this case you can play with privacy.

Dear Miss Information,

I married very young. After nearly two decades and two great kids, my husband passed away. I have no desire to date or remarry. But because my husband was my best friend for so many years, I don’t have a lot of female friends. Locally, most women my age are married and/or still raising kids. They’re nice, but understandably don’t have a lot of time for new friends, and our priorities are very different. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been ditched at the last minute because of some “emergency” involving Hubby Harry or Little Sally.

I’ve invited a few acquaintances and work colleagues out for coffee, but am usually rebuffed with “I don’t have time.” Or else we’ll go out, but the invite is never reciprocated. I’ve even tried joining a few groups, with less-than-stellar results. The women-only groups tend to be married or much older. In co-ed environments, I’m virtually ignored by the single women (who are chatting up the men) and hit on by the men (who assume I’m on the prowl). I just want some girl friends who have time to devote to friendship. Any advice on where to look, preferably where I won’t simultaneously have to fend off advances? — Looking for My BFF

Dear Looking for My BFF,

You know those empty-nesters who live their whole lives by the phone, waiting for their kids to call? My mom’s not one of them. Every time I call, she’s on her way somewhere, whether it’s lunch with the girls, conversational-Spanish class, country line dancing, or Pilates. She’s not a retiree manic to fill her time; she’s always been like this. My dad’s job took us up and down the East Coast and she had to befriend everyone from southern belles in South Carolina to football moms in Steeltown.

Here’s what she said about your problem: “You can only be a good friend to someone who wants to make a new friend. They’re out there but it takes time, and you have to keep your eyes wide open.”

I’ll add that sometimes the person you’ll click with most isn’t the one who fits your sociographic-demopod preconceptions. Don’t be afraid to talk to people who are older, younger, have bad lipliner, a set of gonads or a collection of Nora Roberts novel. Why not play wingwoman to a new divorcee? I know anything having to do with courtship is a grief trigger, but if you’re serious about making friends, you’ll do whatever it takes to fit in with the locals. I was so eager to meet people that I pretended to love the TV show Friends when I first got to college. After sitting through hours of laugh tracks and unrealistically huge New York apartments, I finally found the one girl who was also bored out of her turkey. We were BFFs from then on out.

My mom’s also big on the long warm-up: “When you join a group, look for the person whose eyes are darting around the room or who seems a little lonely, and introduce yourself. If they seem interested, keep talking. Next time, remember their name and call that person by their name. After a few classes, ask the person to an event or lunch.”

It’s a bit like dating. You can’t just initiate sex — i.e. an entire day of cappuccino-drinking, secret-exchanging, brunch and shopping — without laying the groundwork of courtship. Take it slow and build up a rapport..

If you’re a comedian, my mom says, show it: “People really enjoy positive, happy, funny people and will want to hang around them. Complaining turns people off.”

Doing all that, but still can’t get repeat business? Establish mandatory contact with your friend-targets, says mom: “Find a group, then take up office in that group. By being a leader, you will have a lot of contact with other people and stay busy at the same time. I met a lot of people when I became an officer in the homeowners’ association, after moving to a new town.”

Something like this would really help me. I’m great at giving and getting numbers, but become neurotic when it’s time to follow up. My internal monologue asks, “Was she really interested or I am just bugging her?” Knowing that I have to call, because otherwise an event won’t happen or a politician won’t get elected, is an excellent motivator.

I know homeowners’ associations aren’t exactly Thrillsville, so here are some other options: volunteer for political causes, organize a block sale or clothing swap, go online and join a community like BlogHer where you can bond with women over shared interests and avoid the awkward small talk. It’s not all basement-dwellers and fourteen-year-old Twilight fans. I’ve made several close friends in forums like these, so think of that the next time you’re feeling doubtful.

Readers, do you have any advice for Looking for My BFF? Ever try to find a BFF and have it turn into something OMG or WTF?