diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 14, 2008

There's nothing quite like Old Moore's Almanack. It's jam packed with horoscopes, dodgy adverts and superstitious tosh. If you want to know the highs and lows of the Saggitarian year or check your lucky lottery numbers or discover what the stars hold in store for Noel Edmonds, it's the publication for you. And who could resist the bonkers adverts for postal witchcraft, spriritual silver talismans and lucky Cornish piskeys? I like Old Moore especially for the 12 pages of astronomical information in the middle - high tides, phases of the moon, famous anniversaries, that sort of thing. Before the internet came along there was no easy way of finding out this sort of thing, and a quid or two was small price to pay for horological peace of mind. The almanac's been published every year since 1697 (I don't think celebrity astro-profiles featured in the first issue) and I own a copy of every edition since at least 1990. Except for 2009.

Old Moore's Almanack is published in midsummer each year, and normally I spot a copy in a shop soon after publication. In a box beside the till in Smiths in Stratford or lying on a shelf in some godforsaken provincial bookshop. But not this year. I've not seen a copy anywhere, not for six months, so I wondered whether the publication had finally gone bust. Aha no, there it is on Foulsham's website, which opens up the online purchase option I've had to use once before. And all for a totally reasonable £2.20 plus 33p postage and packing. Add to basket, go to checkout, type in personal details and card number... and click on "Make Payment".

Oh bugger, Verified by Visa.

Now, what is it that banks are always telling us? Never (repeat NEVER) enter your personal details on a suspicious website. And what am I starting at? A big white screen with a small amateurish frame in the middle, like some web designers idea of cutting edge page layout 2001 style. Distinctly suspect. There's also a completely different web address to the site I was originally on. I appear to have been transported to www.securesuite.co.uk (which, if I was an online crime spammer, is precisely the sort of fake URL I might select). Questionable, most definitely. The text on the screen isn't much more reassuring. "Simply complete the details below to activate this free security service." Precisely what a viral phishing site might say. And then space to enter all my most secret financial information. Call me paranoid, but there is absolutely no way I'm going to sign up to this supposed service mid-transaction. £2.53 unspent. Payment fail.

My bank hasn't yet thought fit to warn me about any of this in any official communication, which is one reason I'm a little apprehensive. But, as I understand it, Verified by Visa is an opt-in service designed to improve online security. Its watchwords are reassurance and trust. Once I've signed up to V-by-V, every online transaction will be one stage longer, demanding yet another password at the crucial purchasing moment just to delay things a little. It'll stop evil restaurant waiters from scratching down my card details and buying a new car with the proceeds. But, touch wood, no sneaky shop assistant has yet abused my financial identity, so I'm not convinced it's an extra stage worth having. Unfortunately, that's not a choice I appear to be allowed to make.

If I don't sign up to Verified by Visa, I can't complete this purchase. The added security is supposedly for me and not the retailer, but the store won't confirm my transaction unless I accept it. Unless I make every future online purchase more awkward, I can't pay for this one. And something tells me I'm doing them a favour, not the other way round.

So I refused. And Foulsham's website refused in return. Damn you, Visa, damn you and your imposed restrictive security system. Looks like my long-standing collection of Old Moore's Almanacks will have a 2009-shaped hole in it. Until I finally submit to Visa's online bullying, I fear my online purchasing days are numbered.

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