One day when I was home from college, I ran an errand for my father. I think he needed something from the hardware store and had given me his American Express card to pay for whatever it was. On the way back, I stopped at Wendy’s for lunch. As I sat down to eat, Dad’s credit card slipped out of my pocket and fell on the floor. I did not realize this.
It took me 15 minutes to get home. About 20 minutes after that, Dad got a phone call from American Express. It seems that a man whose name was not Claxton was at the Atlanta airport trying to buy a ticket to Switzerland with our card. I should point out that the airport was at least 30 minutes from Wendy’s. So, literally within seconds of my leaving the restaurant, someone must have found the credit card, decided to leave the country, and driven like mad to Hartsfield, without even packing a clean set of underpants.
A small part of me envied this man. Here was “carpe diem” in its purest form. One minute you’re having a $2 bowl of chili, and the next you’re heading for the Swiss Alps. Thoreau once said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Not this guy. He saw his moment, threw caution to the wind, and went for it. I admired the reckless courage of it all.
My father did not see it that way.
It was my first experience with anything like identity theft. Over the years I’ve seen versions of it happen to other people. One man I knew was cleaning out his house and threw out a stack of old checks without shredding them. They were from a bank account that had long been closed, so he thought nothing of it. The next thing he knew, these checks started appearing all over town, and it took forever to straighten out the mess.
Thank goodness no one uses checks anymore and our personal information is completely safe. I mean, now that every tiny bit of our data is digitized and stored in a pocket telephone, what could possibly go wrong?
Enter the so-called “Internet of Things.” Apparently, now everything that has wires can become a smart appliance. Did you leave the house but forgot to turn on the dishwasher? No problem, just use your phone to start it remotely. Out of town but not sure if the DVR is set to record “Criminal Minds”? Not a worry, one click solves the issue. On your way to Switzerland with a stolen credit card and didn’t call a babysitter? Just activate the kids’ iPad from your Samsung, and they’ll be mesmerized for months until the extradition order comes through.
Alexander Pope is the one who said, “When to mischief mortals bend their will, how soon they find fit instruments of ill.” Identity thieves are now having a field day hacking into home appliances in order to access personal data on our smartphones. Sneaking in through the back door of the fridge, so to speak. For years, we’ve been told to be careful with our wallets. But now the breach is just as likely to happen with the curling iron. In an article I read the first paragraph of on the Internet, the writer says that a group of researchers recently proved it was possible to bring down an entire power grid just by hacking into a light bulb.
The implications of this new vulnerability are huge and extend far beyond our bank accounts. Indeed, national security is now at risk. What if a rogue nation starts World War III just because some new intern thought it would be simpler to use the same password for the nuclear codes and the White House toaster? Not only could the President’s secret bagel preferences be compromised, but also the fate of the civilized world.
I think the time has finally come for me to go off the grid. I’ve been threatening it for years, but this is just too much. Remember the man in the movie “Wargames” who was prepared to ride things out on his ranch in Oregon while a crazed computer plunged the world into nuclear chaos? I’m unplugging my electric toothbrush and heading for the Swiss Alps with some checks I found in the neighbor’s trash. Carpe Ski-um—seize the slopes!