Last week, someone stole my identity.
I know that seems stupid. Regular readers of this column will wonder, after hearing about my life, why anyone with a perfectly good identity of their own would want to pose as Peter McKay. Half the time, I’m not sure I even want to be me.
Driving down the road, I got a recorded robo-call from my credit union saying there had been “suspicious activity” on my credit card. As a middle-aged man with children in college, I technically possess a credit card but can only use it for practical purposes like jimmying doors or scraping ice off my windshield in the morning. I magically have to go to the bathroom just as the check is coming toward the table. I knew there had been no suspicious activity. In fact, there’d been no activity whatsoever. I decided to stop into the credit union and check it out.
Once inside, I explained to the older lady behind the desk that I’d gotten “the call.” She nodded and pulled up my account on the screen. “You, sir,” she said, “have been shut off. Did you go to Harlem on Tuesday afternoon and buy $245 worth of wigs?” She looked over her glasses at my balding pate and obvious lack of style and shook her head.
“Then, later that same afternoon, you took a hot yoga class in Carmel, Calif. Two hours later, you purchased $375 worth of beauty supplies at a shop in Seattle. Then you ran up a big bill at a Mexican restaurant in Dallas, and then topped the night off at a club in Los Angeles, where it looks like you tried to pay for bottle service to the tune of $1,250 but got declined!”
Before I could say anything, she pulled out a form from her desk, had me sign it, told me the charges would be removed immediately, and said a new card would be on its way to my house. No questions asked. We’d just forget this ever happened.
At first I was extremely pleased at the great service. I was worried that I’d be under the third degree. Of course, I don’t wear a wig, but who wouldn’t like to try hot yoga at least once? As I walked out of the credit union, I realized they hadn’t asked me a single question and weren’t all that curious as to how it went down. That meant, of course, that this was THEIR FAULT AND THIS HAPPENED TO THEM ALL THE TIME! (I’ve never figured out exactly how to shout in a column, so take all those capital letters to be a major, major AHA! moment.)
Suddenly I was angry. I grew up thinking banks were safe. When we were kids, my brothers and I would go to the bank with our mom, and we’d cower at the security guard standing in the corner. Sure, we’d do little things. My favorite was waiting until Mom went to the window, then sidling over to the pile of deposit slips and writing “THIS IS A STICK UP!” on the backs of as many as we could, and slipping them back into the pile. We giggled at the hilarity when one of our neighbors went up to the counter and the alarm bells went off. But really? We always thought of our local bank as a veritable Fort Knox. When I deposited my $5.75 there in fifth grade, I knew it was safe because the retired cop with the service revolver would put a slug in anybody who tried to take it.
Flash forward to today where, thanks to Internet hackers, your local financial institution is a revolving door. If you have a Target card, the person at the next register over could be buying cat food at your expense. Go into Home Depot, and you’re probably buying two-by-fours for yourself along with a water heater for a guy in Des Moines, Iowa. They can issue you all the passwords and encrypted sites they want, but if they allow hackers to get into the system from the other side, it would be as if you went to the bank, gave the teller your money, and the teller turned around and handed it right to a bank robber.
Haven’t been hacked yourself yet? Just wait. I picture a day, not that far off, when you’ll get two credit card statements. One will list the charges that you made and have to pay for. The second one will list the charges that some hacker who broke into the system made and you still have to pay for.
To make it clear, the second envelope will say on the front in big letters, “THIS IS A STICK UP!”