spare me from my friends, and I'll handle the enemies on my own
I am writing these lines from Kiev, Ukraine, having just arranged for a cash transfer via Western Union after my bank card and my two credit cards have refused to work. My parents were on the other end of the phone line in New York, and they were able to help me out when I found myself stranded in Kiev due to the courtesy of bank officials protecting my security.
The prospect of identity theft rears its ugly head every time you do something unconventional. Or, rather, something that a bureucrat at your bank considers unconventional. For example, traveling. The bell rings as soon as you leave your city. I have had credit cards suspended for the crime of using credit cards to pay for gas while traveling in California. Now, that was a really suspicious activity on my account. The fellow resides in Irvine, CA, where he regularly uses his card in supermarkets, and then all of a sudden he spends $20 at a gas station in Los Angeles, and then another $20 in Santa Barbara, CA, and the next day - yet another $20 in San Lois Obispo, CA. Suspicious! Surely it can't be him, right? Surely it's some crook on the run. If the fellow were indeed the legitimate owner of his card, why on earth would he need to travel in this suspicios way?
Imaginary security breaches intensify when you travel out-of-state. I've had my fair share of them (a temporary relocation from New York to California has resulted in one of my 3 credit cards being permanently lost to paranoia; I was told to show up at the NY headquarters to prove that I was really myself. Being at California at that time, I naturally decided not to bother).
But when you go ABROAD, that's when things begin to get interesting. A fellow who is currently a NY resident goes abroad. Not just abroad, but to Eastern Europe. Suspicios! Why would an honest American go to Eastern Europe? To a country with name like Uk... what's that? Ukr...how does one pronounce it? Ukrrrraine...where the hell is that?...Well, nobody but a crook would go there. An honest hardworking American is not supposed to go to Ukkkrrraine...not for two months at any rate...perhaps it would be OK to go Nashville, MA. Or to Zimbabwe. (Yes, folks, Zimbawe is a popular destination for honest hardworking Americans. I know this because my Yahoo box is full of messages from friendly Zimbabwians all to eager to give me $1 mln. No matter what I do with my security settings, these messages somehow filter through. Apparently, in the eyes of our protectors, a place like Zimbabwe is above all suspicion.)
And so, by going abroad, you immediately become suspected of impersonating yourself. The banking industry takes note and implements the security measures desinged to protect you from yourself. First, you bank card stops working. Then you go to the ATM machine and use you credit card. It seems to work at first. It actually takes time for the security alarm to spread throughout the whole system. So you log in to your bank account, make payment to the credit card, and log out, thinking that you've found a way around the problem created by one banking clerk's paranoia. To be 100% sure, you go to the ATM again and verify that your card still works as before. But don't be fooled, this is merely a temporary reprieve. At some point, the ripples finally reach your credit card company's headquearters. By now, everybody suspects that some con man abroad is impersonating you while the real you is sitting on your cauch in your NY apartment. That conclusion is so obvious that nobody is going to contact you through either phone or email. That's not cost efficient. Instead, they simply block all your accounts, and leave it to you to grapple with what is now your problem. One fine day, the ATM informs you that your card information is incorrect. You try the second card. The transaction is declined. You get on the net and try to log in to your account. Sure enough, the computer replies: "We cannot identify you via the means provided. Please call us at such and such number".
Serve the bastard right. Goes to Europe and expects to have access to his money. What a crook.
Cashless society sounds good in theory. But the hard reality is this: if you want to play it safely, you can only count on those dollar bills that you carry in your wallet. All other, "electronic" money, is only available as long as the bureaucrats at your financial institution choose NOT to freeze your account, which seems to be their default response to any movement from point A to point B you may think of. The moral? Before you start worrying about bad guys stealing your identity, you would do well to think how to protect yourself from the good guys: those in charge of protecting your financial security.