Presentations

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Identity Theft

My phone rang at twenty minutes after midnight earlier this week. Of course, I was sound asleep so it took a few rings before my brain could interpret the sound and direct my hand to pick up the receiver. When I realized it was the phone, my first thought was Oh, my God, someone has died.

Instead of my mother, the normal bearer of sad tidings, I heard a recorded voice say, “This is Excel Bank, and we are notifying you that your debit card has been suspended. To speak to a representative about this matter …” OK. I’ve been awakened out of a sound sleep and I think someone has stolen my identity and ransacked my checking account. Then the practical side of my brain reminds me that my friend Arlene at Excel Bank would never call me in the middle of the night, so I hung up the phone.

The next day, the big news story is about the deluge of calls to everyone in Sedalia with an 826 prefix. Some of the people who received the calls were not, and had never been, Excel Bank customers. The scam artists even called the sheriff at his home and the Sedalia Police Department. Had I followed the directions, I would have been instructed to key in my account and pin number.

Ten years ago, I might have been tricked into giving someone sensitive information over the phone or on the Internet, but now I’ve learned to ignore urgent email requests about problems with various accounts—Amazon, E-Bay, bank, etc. I never click on “You Won! You are our 1,000,000th Customer” or “You won the Canadian lottery!”

When Jim and I first used the ATM, I could never remember the assigned number so he always had to key it in. Several years later, when he was in the early stages of dementia, Jim couldn’t consistently remember the secret number. One day I was at work and a teller at the bank called.

“There’s a man at the drive-up window who says he’s your husband. He tried to get money out of your account at the ATM, but couldn’t remember the pin number.”

“Did he want $30?” I asked. Jim always withdrew exactly $30 and that amount would be verification of his identity as far as I was concerned.

“Yes, he did. We had him send in his driver’s license, and then couldn’t decide if it was really him.”

“Oh, it’s Jim. Go ahead and give him the money.” The teller thought someone had stolen Jim’s identity. In reality, Jim was losing his identity to dementia—one memory, one skill, at a time.

Our identities are our most important possession because it is a mirror of our inner selves and values. When someone steals an identity, they have already demonstrated a flawed character. I don’t want to be bilked out of my hard earned money by a thief. Still, I would much rather lose dollars than my identity.
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