When a new vacuum cleaner was delivered to my house last week I assumed it was a belated birthday present from my mother-in-law. A veiled reference to the fact that I’m a surrendered husband, perhaps? Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I removed the packaging, stuck it in the cupboard under the stairs and didn’t think any more about it.
Then, a couple of days later, another ‘gift’ arrived: an industrial-strength mattress protector. Surely, that couldn’t be from my mother-in-law, too? I looked at the label and it was addressed to ‘Tobias Young’, rather than ‘Toby Young’, which was odd. It had been bought from a large furniture retailer called Wayfair.
My first thought was that I must be the victim of some sort of scam, but I couldn’t work out what. If someone was using my Visa Debit card to buy furniture, why were they sending it to me rather than themselves? I checked my bank account anyway, but no payments had gone out to Wayfair. Clearly, the company’s fulfilment ‘team’ — a 22-year-old computer science grad in Bangalore — had mixed me up with another customer called ‘Tobias Young’ and I was getting the stuff he’d paid for. When he didn’t receive his vacuum cleaner and his mattress protector he’d call the customer service department, figure out the mistake, and in due course a white Transit van would pull up outside my house and collect the items. So I put them back in their packaging, got busy with the Sellotape, and propped them up against the wall in my hallway.
But then another package arrived: a shoe cupboard. I tried to tell the DHL delivery man I didn’t want it, but he refused to take it back: ‘I can’t mate, I’ve got no room in the van.’ Eh? Surely, you’ve just created a space of exactly the right size? ‘Nah mate, that’s not how it works. It all has to go in the right order and if I put this back I won’t be able to get to the next thing. It’s a science, innit?’ I wanted to reply that if it was a ‘-science’, how come the boffins back in the lab had dispatched this shoe cupboard to the wrong bloody address? But I bit my tongue, meekly signed for it and stuck it next to the other packages.
I decided to call Wayfair’s customer service department. After a short wait — no longer than an hour and a half — I got through to a lady who, as luck would have it, was an anger-management consultant. At least, I assume she must have been because she dealt with me so well. After listening to my 30-minute rant she calmly said: ‘That’s terrible, Mr Young. Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this, shall we?’ From that moment on I was putty in her hands.
It turned out that a single order had been placed for £437.96 on 5 November for five items, three of which I’d received, with two more on the way. When I told her no money had come out of my bank account she asked about credit cards. At that point, I remembered that I’d received a new Barclaycard two days before, completely unbidden. I gave her the number of my old one and, sure enough, that was the card the order had been charged to. But what was the scam?
The anger-management lady started noodling around in the account trying to figure that out, and eventually she did. Wayfair had my address in its system because I’d bought a shower-head from there six months ago. The man who’d placed the order on 5 November, when he discovered this, had also notified them of a change of address — swapping mine for his, presumably. Only Wayfair hadn’t processed that yet, so the stuff was coming to me. She told me she’d arrange for DHL to pick up the unwanted items.
My next call was to Barclaycard’s fraud department. Had there been a data breach of some kind? Is that why I’d received the new card? Apparently not. They’d simply cancelled the old one and issued a new one because they thought the Wayfair trans-action was ‘suspicious’. Something to do with my never having charged more than £25 to my Barclaycard before. Anyway, the man agreed to refund me and told me he’d get on to Wayfair to get the address details of the fraudster.
All’s well that ends well, I suppose. But in the meantime my hallway looks like a furniture warehouse in its own right.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.