This week’s column is a public-service article about identity theft, which is a growing problem in our society.
To explain what identity theft is, let’s take the story of a guy named Bob (not his real name). Bob has a lot of nice things, doesn’t think much of tossing around his credit cards, and lives a nice, stress-free life. And here’s why: Bob is not his real name. I just said that. He stole the name from someone else.
Okay, so you think it won’t happen to you. If you’re like me, you’re saying things like, “Who wants my identity? You want to work really hard, trying to think up jokes for almost no money? Having no money doesn’t exactly induce jokes, you know.”
That said, though, you might think that I, in particular, am actually more susceptible, seeing as I write personal details about my life every week, making it easier for someone to steal my identity. But I’d say I’m doing the opposite. I work overtime every week to make sure that no one will want my identity. Like after two days, they’ll say, “Oh my goodness! Take it back! All these things you write about really happen to you? We thought you were kidding!” They’re going to be afraid that they’ll be struck by lightning just because it’s bashert for there to be a humor column about lightning one week. So if anyone does want my identity at this point, they’re probably illiterate.
On the other hand, identity thieves take your money and not your responsibilities. I say that if you’re going to take one, you should at least take the other. You work overtime trying to teach high-school students the difference between definite articles and indefinite articles.
“Mr. Schmutter,” my students sometimes say, “the article you ran last week was one definite article.”
And even if you don’t have money, they can still take your money. It’s not like breaking into your house, where if there’s nothing to steal, they can’t really steal anything. Identity thieves don’t know you have nothing to steal. They rack up enormous bills you can’t pay, and seriously ruin your good name. Even if you don’t have a particularly good name, like “Shmelke” or “Loozer.”
And what if they commit crimes in your name? I’m not saying they’re running into a bank and yelling, “Give me all your money, in the name of Berish!” But they can still use your name while committing crimes. Are you going to go to jail screaming “It wasn’t me!”? That’s going to help. Everyone in the entire jail is saying that exact thing.
And the scariest part is that it’s not easy to know when your identity has been stolen. It’s not like when your bike is stolen, where you know it right away.
“Oh, shoots. What happened to my name? I had it a minute ago.”
It’s not like you’re at a restaurant, and your order is ready, and suddenly there’s nothing they can call out to get your attention. Or you get a phone call, and the person doesn’t know how to ask for you.
“Hi, is . . . Weinstein home?”
But technically it’s not identity theft, it’s identity fraud. You don’t lose your actual name. You get to keep it. You just have to share it. And it’s not like when you and your cousin have the same name, or like people named Chaim Cohen (I know about six).
So the question is, How do you prevent identity theft? Here are some tips that experts recommend:
• Don’t give out your whole Social unless it’s absolutely necessary, such as that someone asks for it, and you don’t want to make a scene, because there are people on line behind you.
This is especially important if you didn’t initiate contact. Like sometimes, someone will say, “Hi, we’re calling from the bank. There’s a problem with your account.”
So first of all, that’s a red flag right there. If the bank has a problem, they don’t call you. They send you a letter, snail mail, that is a chore to read because it’s five dense pages that, when you’re done, still raises a million questions, and then you call them. They’re perfectly happy hanging on to your money for you until that happens.
But they called you. And then they say, “We can resolve the problem. But first we need your full name and account number.”
So you’re supposed to say, “Wait a minute. You called me. If you don’t have my name and bank account number, how do you know there’s a problem with my account?”
• Use a secure password. Your password should contain a capital letter, a number, an emoticon, four elements from the periodic table, and a plot containing a protagonist with some character development and a twist ending.
• Don’t use the same password for everything. But they also say not to write your passwords anywhere, unless it’s somewhere password-protected. So in order to not have to remember a password, you have to remember another password.
Thankfully, a lot of places have a security question they can ask you, that if you answer it, they send you a randomly generated brand new password that is even harder to remember. But these questions make it harder for someone to steal your identity, because they ask things that only you can know the answer to, like: What’s your dog’s maiden name?
• Shred everything. Some identity thieves who haven’t figured out computers yet like to go through people’s trash. So people say you should shred everything before you throw it out. And that’s a lot of shredding. Especially since companies keep sending you things you didn’t ask for, such as pre-approved credit card offers that have all your information on every page, like that will sell you on the card.
Why are you sending this to me? I didn’t tell you to print all my info on a piece of paper and send it to me through a mailman who basically leaves it outside in a little mini house outside my actual house! Are you actually getting new customers this way? Who’s sitting there, saying, “I want to carry around even more credit cards, but I don’t actually want to apply for them. I’m waiting for them to come to me in the mail, pre-approved.”
Pre-approved? I don’t even know you! Who have you been talking to?
But I don’t buy the whole shredding thing. My grandmother could put together a thousand-piece puzzle in under an hour. You think thieves don’t have grandmothers?
Some experts advise people to burn important documents. But if I told you to burn everything you get that has your info on it, you’ll be on the fire department’s watch list. Or you’ll be that weird guy who brings his mail to biur chametz every year.
• Smash your computer. (Wait. Not yet. Read the whole paragraph.) Before you throw out a computer, make sure you get someone who knows what he’s doing to wipe it clean of all your personal info. Otherwise, find out which part of the computer stores that and smash it with a hammer. If you’re getting rid of a computer, chances are it’s been frustrating you to the point where you want to smash it anyway. Or maybe stick it through a shredder.
If you need to toss a computer, make sure it’s out of a high window. You should also probably check to make sure that no one’s standing below. Though if someone is below, rooting through your garbage, feel free to throw it anyway. Police are going to ask him, “Who threw that at you?” and he’ll say, “Bob Weinstein,” and they’ll say, “Aren’t you Bob Weinstein?”
• Have a really Jewish name. My advice is to have a name that most identity thieves can’t pronounce, like Elimelech Yerachmiel. People steal a name like that, they’ll just give it back. If the guy pronouncing his own name sounds like a telemarketer, most companies will start getting suspicious.
But whatever you do, try to prevent your identity from being stolen. One of the worst things about identity theft is that you’re going to have to spend the rest of your life on the phone, trying to straighten things out. I mean, look at the world-record holder for identity theft, who was Jon Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. Of course, the victims in his case were pretty silly, walking around with their mothers’ maiden names in full view. I bet that was it. But the point is that years later, this is still an issue for these victims. It’s still not sorted out, and they’re still singing about it.
Anyway, thanks for reading this article. I’m Mordechai Schmutter.
Oh, wait. Looks like someone else is Mordechai Schmutter. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.