A close encounter on the phone with a credit-card company:

Card member: “I want to ask a question about my account.”

Citibank MasterCard: “Your account number, name, address, telephone number, social security ID–and your mother’s maiden name.”

C: “I don’t remember having given you my mother’s maiden name.”

MC: “We got that piece of information from one of Citicorp’s sister companies. You had given it to them [irritated]. Your mother’s maiden name.”

C: “Yes, to them. But I didn’t give them permission to disclose the data to other people.”

MC: “Sir, we have to stop here if you don’t answer my questions.”

C: “Come to think of it, you never asked for my mother’s maiden name when I queried about my account before.”

MC: “Well, sir, it’s a new rule, in effect since last Monday.”

C: “And you didn’t inform the cardholders beforehand.”

MC: “It’s a matter of internal policy. We can add rules without notifying you.”

C: “Well in that case I’m going to exercise my consumer power. I want to terminate my account.”

MC: “You can’t do that.”

C: “Why not? It’s my account.”

MC: “Not if you don’t answer my questions. How do we know it’s your account?”

C: “Look, I’ve answered all the questions except the one about my mother. Who else can I be?”

MC: “You must answer all my questions for verification. Otherwise, we stop now.”

C: “Can I write you to terminate my account?”

MC: “That’s entirely up to you. I can’t guarantee anything.”

C: “OK, I give up. I’ll send you a statement in writing. I hope you haven’t changed your rules regarding that, too.”

MC: “If that’s what you want, sir. By the way, you won’t be able to use your card for the next 24 hours. Since you refused to answer our questions, we must assume you are not the rightful cardholder. Your account will be locked–for your own protection.”

And we’re giving advice to Russia and Eastern Europe about revamping their recalcitrant bureaucracies.