COLUMNS

Ready: How the bleep did I get on a 'watch list'?

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

My generation still cringes at the name of Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957). That’s because he claimed to have a lengthy list of subversive Americans bent on bringing grievous harm to our nation. In the early 1950’s, he cried “Communist!” with the same baseless hysteria as our colonist ancestors cried “Witch!” in 1692 Salem, Mass. State Department officials, military personnel, actors, writers, and social leaders found themselves blacklisted and subjected to interrogation by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Reputations and careers were ruined merely by the insinuation these were dangerous people.

Well, enough preface.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself blacklisted by two local Wal-Mart Money Stores. It all began when I went to the Destin location to have Person #1 wire some money to Moldova. She went to her computer, entered my phone number, and somberly informed me that I wasn’t in their system. “That’s odd,” I thought. I have often wired money to Europe, usually to forward a J-1 student’s final salary payment to his or her home country after leaving the U.S. I’ve probably done this at the Destin store a half dozen times over the last few years. This time, the clerk told me she couldn’t help me unless I could prove I’d previously used their service. I couldn’t. So, I suggested we pretend I’d never been in here before and start from scratch, establishing me as a new customer. Her response was that she couldn’t do that either since I’d already admitted to being an established customer (even though I apparently didn’t exist in her computer).

She recommended I call the MoneyGram Company. I did. And Person #2 (aka Operator 210) concurred with Person #1 and her supervisor, Person #3, that I’m on a list of people not allowed to wire money through their system. All three ladies, after speaking together on my cell phone, agreed I was persona non grata. At least, #1 seemed sorry for me and advised me to go to another Wal-Mart, walk in like a new customer, and try it there.

The next day, I laid my money and my wire form down in front of Person #4 at the Money Store in Fort Walton. She took one look at my name and said, “I’m not allowed to send money for you.” Then she coldly turned to the next customer while I stood there with my face turning crimson. When I made a fuss, she called MoneyGram, and in whispered tones, with her head mostly under the counter, she and Person #5, (aka Operator 353), agreed I was a terrible person on the terrible person list.

Growing increasingly confused, embarrassed, and upset, I tried to find out what I had done to get my name on their blacklist. That only made #4 more dismissive and nastier. When I tried to make peace with her because I didn’t hold her personally responsible for my predicament, she rolled her eyes at me and made a face. Her final word of “Sorry” was spoken with such a snippy attitude, I knew she wasn’t the least bit sorry.

Then, I did something I’ve never done before. I filed a complaint with Wal-Mart’s customer service. The next day, I got a call from one of the store’s managers apologizing for my bad experience with their employee. I also got a call from the MoneyGram Customer Service Person #6 (Special Operator # 10). She also apologized and told me to try an international money order through the post office. I was promised they would email me when they concluded their investigation into what happened, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for that email.

Person #6 surmised I might have gotten onto a watch list of people who launder money and/or send funds to terrorists in Europe. She further conjectured I might be on a list of Americans being protected from sending money to foreign scam artists. Worse, I might be suspected of running a confidence racket involving U.S. dollars and Euros.

Huh????

The Western Union Person #7 had me on their blacklist as well, but she threw me out graciously.

So I wired the money bank to bank. It costs more in fees, takes much longer to reach the recipient, and requires filling out forms requiring detailed, esoteric information. At least, Person #8 at my bank knows me and has no blacklist with my name on it.

If you see my picture hanging up at a Wal-Mart Money Store, you’ll know I made their Most Unwanted List.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.