Almost daily we hear horror stories about identity theft. And it is a truly horrible aspect of post modern life, in some ways worse than an old-fashioned physical burglary or mugging.
One day you are minding your own business, the next some vile techno-marauder in Smolensk has managed to use zeros and ones to persuade stupid computers or scanners to transfer your money to Paraguay or finance a spending spree in Moldova while you think you are hoarding every nickel in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.
Next thing you know – Bang, Zoom – your credit card doesn’t work, the ATM won’t give you the time of day, you are divorced from a pole dancer in Khartoum you’ve never even met and owe her child support while she has been declared the heir to the fortune you didn’t even know your great aunt had left you.
This cascade of troubles triggers even more. Soon you are being fined, sued, locked out of your accounts, denied credit, treated like an electronic leper, threatened by repo men who are taking back your car and furniture, and starring in a Jason Bateman movie with no laughs whatsoever. Your actual wife decides you really did all these terrible things and dumps you for a computer geek who is clever enough not to be hacked or is at least capable of hacking back. For all you know, he’s the guy who engineered this catastrophe in the first place.
And what can you do? Spend a year trying to untangle the mess, persuading your bank, credit card company and sundry other creditors that you are you and the bad acts belong to another person claiming to be you in cyberspace. The fact that you have never even been to cyberspace and don’t have the shots for it cuts no ice with these guys.
Oh yeah, you can also change your password. That’ll stop ‘em.
This scenario scares me so much I did change all my passwords. But now, everywhere I go, I have to lug the sort of huge ledger Bob Cratchit toted up columns of figures in. It contains my passwords. I must have four hundred different ones by now.
I also thought about adding a layer of security to my life by installing a magic password encoder and decoder app, but I couldn’t figure out how to run it. I didn’t trust it anyway. How do I know the proliferating security programs that are recommended can be trusted? Articles praising their virtues are probably written by those Nigerian royals who need a loan. I figure the apps are Manchurian Candidates posing as loyal programs but secretly in the employ of evil doers intent on assassinating my credit worthiness.
It’s enough to keep you up at night watching the money that you have removed from all investments, bank accounts, and vaults and relocated to your mattress. But even then the bedroom computer keeps eying your bed suspiciously.
If all that isn’t enough, I object to the name Identity Theft. Money theft is what’s really going on. Identity is just the means to the end. In the famous old joke, a robber accosted notorious cheapskate Jack Benny and said, “Your money or your life.” What ensued was a long, long pause that got the biggest laugh in radio history before Benny delivered the punch line: “I’m thinking it over.”
In the present instance, if offered a choice between parting with my identity or my money I would have no problem. Take my identity, please. Just leave the cash. But if identities really are being stolen, is there a place you can go to get a replacement? If so, I’ll take George Clooney’s for a week or two. Please.