I am sitting in front of my computer, trying to access my Transcom Bank account. The company has rules for setting passwords that don’t jibe with my standard password. I hate it when I try to use one of my three favorites and none of them works because it must have at least one capital letter, one sign such a @ or #, eight to sixteen characters, a gang sign, at least one number, no two of which can repeat or be consecutive, etc. And yes, I do have three standard passwords—two for financials and one for all the rest.
I click on “I can’t remember my password” and am challenged to answer the security questions. The answers which were stunningly easy to call to mind on the day I created them have now become obscure. “What was the name of your first pet?” Did I name Tippy, our beagle puppy when I was five? She dug in my father’s flowerbeds, made her escape through a tunnel under the chain link fence and “disappeared” after going to grandfather’s horse farm in Indiana while we were on vacation. Or was it Chomper the goldfish we bought at less than 1” who outgrew several bowls? Those were family pets. Surely I must have entered “Jingles,” our Peke-faced tortoiseshell Persian, my first true animal love. Every spring she mated with a feral silver tabby named Kitty Soft Paws and turned out a litter of kittens before Palm Sunday. She liked to have us all present at the births. Dad said she taught the kids on our street sex education. Luckily other questions exist.
“Name your favorite uncle” comes next. Uncle Bud, no contest —Uncle Bud who liked to bet on thoroughbreds and secretly slipped $100 bills in our desk drawers on his way out-of-town.
The street where I grew up was either Eagle Pass or Clayton Road. At 13, I had my second kiss on Clayton Road (the first being at Presbyterian sleep away camp in a mildewed cabin while others were at an outdoor amphitheater celebrating evening vespers). Kisses are a landmark of maturity, but arguably we do more growing up in the first nine years than all the rest, so it could be either. Sensing that my tries are numbered, I pass.
On to the next: What is your mother’s middle name? Her maiden name was Elizabeth Foster Chase. Her married name was Elizabeth Chase Bell. Ack! Which one did I choose? I enter the wrong one and learn that I have made too many attempts to get in.
My account is now frozen. My iphone buzzes with a text message informing me that my account has had “unusual activity” Fucking-A, don’t I know it? Strangers can hack into Target, steal all their information, and I can’t even get into my own account.
Swamped with the theosophical concerns inherent in using the past tense for pet, I mean we don’t say, “What was your mother’s name? We say, “What is your mother’s name? or just “Mother’s maiden name?” carefully avoiding the issue. Why should we make our beloved animals “less than?” Add to that the feminist concern about the company asking for favorite uncle and mother’s middle name. Why not favorite aunt and father’s middle name? I admit defeat. I pick up the phone, dial the company to request a return to paper billing.
A voice answers: “If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it now. For the hours of operation, press 1. For directions, press 2. If you have questions about billing, press 3.”I press zero, hoping to get a live person. “I am sorry, that is not an option.” I dial again going through the entire sequence until I hear, “If you wish to speak to a representative, press 9.” I press 9. A young woman with clipped rapid speech that is distinctly not Irish comes on the line, “This is Shannon. How may I help you?” What time is it in India anyway?
Don’t tell me I should use a password manager. I know about dashlane. According to their website, they are “the world’s best password manager& secure digital wallet.” If ever a site were begging to be hacked, this is the one.
Over the last weekend, while I was suffering digital angst in New Jersey, my debit card was used twice in Finksberg, Maryland. The perpetrators didn’t even need a password to steal the number. They charged $83.96 at Food Lion and $69.23 at Rite Aid. I hope they were hungry and needed medicine.
This happened to my friend Eric too. He got a call from his wife Bridget who asked, “Is there something you haven’t told me?”
He thought to himself, During eleven years of marriage? You bet. But being the astute husband he is, he said, “What are you talking about?” and found out someone had been ordering online pornography on their debit card. The fraud squad caught a bagger boy at the local Shoprite.
Again, I digress. The editor has now read this and says I have given too much information and someone could use it to steal my identity and get into my accounts. Unfortunately that someone is not me.
Donna Wolfe is a reference librarian at the Lawrence Headquarters Branch of the Mercer County Library. She is quite good with passwords but observes patrons struggle on a daily basis.