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He who steals my identity steals trash

October 23, 2008

So I arrive home from the Great White North to find two disturbing correspondences in the mail, both of which say roughly the same thing.

The first is from Countrywide, which holds roughly seven of my 22 subprime, Alt-F, adjustable, no interest, balloon, we-take-your-dog-as collateral mortgages.

The second is from a company I can't recall hearing of before, called BNY Mellon Shareholder Services. When you are a high roller like me and buy stocks in a DRIP at the rate of .07 shares at a time, your custodial service provider is likely to show up anywhere.

The Mellon letter begins: "We are writing to let you know that computer tapes containing some of your personal information were lost while being transported to an off-site storage facility by our archives services vendor."

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I took this to mean that the waste disposal guy stopped off at a bar on his way to the landfill.

The Countrywide letter begins: "We are writing to inform you that we recently became aware that a Countrywide employee (now former) may have sold unauthorized personal information about you to a third party."

Right up front, I feel conflicted about the "now former" part. Some hapless IT grunt tries to make a couple of quick bucks by handing out a few passwords and he immediately gets canned. Meanwhile, the executives who brought the entire company to utter ruin through idiotic management practices probably all received multimillion severance packages and are now partying in Mykonos with Madonna.

Countrywide's missive included a handout with helpful information to protect my identity: Shred sensitive papers, never write your drivers license number on a check, never leave your mail in an unsecured mailbox, never give out your PINs or passwords and so on - I couldn't help thinking in passing that it might have been nice if these companies followed their own advice.

But regardless, the long and short of it is that the T-dog's personal 411 is now floating around the world like ragweed pollen and can probably be easily accessed on Google.

Both letters say they "deeply regret" the respective transgressions and that they take their responsibility to safeguard personal information "very seriously" (Countrywide) and that this safeguarding has long been a "top priority" (Mellon) and they can't imagine this happening again, and so forth.

I accept their apologies. I might not be so forgiving, except that the recent financial crisis has left me with nothing left worth stealing. In truth, they might have done me a favor. Word will get out on the worldwide black market: "He's broke, don't bother." A crook like Davy Jones couldn't possibly reduce my bank accounts any faster than Dow Jones is doing so admirably at the moment.

The cool thing, however, is that these two companies offered me all sorts of free credit monitoring products from a variety of security companies.

I started to apply, but then I thought - wait, what if THESE companies lose my personal information, too? America is riddled with multibillion-dollar corporations, but apparently none of them can see fit to spring for a padlock.

So maybe I should just leave well-enough alone.

There's nothing to steal. No one would really want my identity. And it's not like anyone could take my Social to a bank and get a loan - nobody's lending.

All in all, it must be a hard time to be a thief.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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