Lileks: Hey hackers, just try reading this


The criminal who stole my credit card number needs to pass it around. Every few days I get an alert on my phone because someone in Thailand tried to use my number to buy ice cream or a thousandth of Bitcoin.

Eventually it will go to limbo, never to be used again. A key without a lock, thrown into the dark drawer of deactivated digital channels. For now, he’s wandering halfway around the world, bumping into brick walls hard, perhaps remembering the day when all the doors opened and the computers happily invited him in.

My paranoia about fraud started when I got a letter from the state of Minnesota telling me about my new unemployment benefits. Hmm. I asked my wife if I had mentioned anything about losing my job lately, which probably wasn’t the best way to put it.

It turns out that a criminal used my social security number, or my “social” as they always call it, as if it were a measure of your ability to be witty when of parties. “The last four digits of your Social” – do you mean my fingers, when I say hello to you?

Because the credit card was tied to several recurring payments, like the TV channel I always want to watch but never do but will definitely watch once I clear those 147 shows I’ve accumulated, I receive e-mails indicating that my card has been declined. “Click here to update your payment information.”

That’s exactly what a phisher would want me to do, isn’t it? It’s gotten to the point where no one trusts anything that comes by email. You hesitate to do online banking lest someone is perched on the telephone pole at the end of the block, peering through your windows with binoculars, capturing your password. That’s why I enabled seven-factor authentication on my banking app.

My username is simple enough to give the criminal a false sense of progress. Next is the password, which looks like a cat attacked a telegraph key.

ww93-dkfds-3dkf-333-dfs4-pert-schmeckies-!!!gh3p4r

It’s not true, of course. (I use “part” instead of “pert”.) If anyone wants to run a quick hack to figure this one out, good luck. Chances are inflation will deplete the balance faster than a hacker could.

“Hold,” you say, “how do you remember that?” Simple: I have a password manager program that I access with my fingerprint. “Hold,” you say, “do you wipe down any surface you touch or anything you throw? Someone might follow you around and take your thumbprint.”

In fact, every morning I paint my thumb with a new layer of clear nail polish, which I remove before accessing the password manager. Once I enter my name and password, the bank sends a number to my phone, and if accepted, there are security questions. They are always like this:

“Who was your first year teacher?” A nice lady who smelled of talcum powder.

“What was your first gig? » Down With People (a briefly popular choral group formed to combat the influence of Up With People; they mostly sang well-arranged statistics about crime and historical atrocities).

“What’s that thing over there?” A coffee can full of coins.

“No, not that; the other thing.” Oh, it’s a broken Gumby figure.

There are 14. Once I get through that the bank sends someone to my location – the phone tells them where – and when I see a man in a yellow suit I stand on one leg and wave a blue rose. He doesn’t recognize me, but shortly after, my phone rings and asks me to point it at my shoe.

Once the size is checked, the browser starts a three-minute timer, during which I boil some water, then type in the water temperature after 180 seconds. If the number is accepted, I have access to my account.

Sure, it’s complicated, but it’s safer than in the good old days. You had a passbook, and the cashier would look at it and maybe ask you for ID, which didn’t have a photo, just a general description. Height, weight, hair color. You gave someone your credit card, and they ran it through a machine that made an exact copy of it. You’ve handed out checks printed with your routing and account numbers, which now feels like you’re running the streets naked.

Everything is safer now I suppose, but even so my trusty old credit card number is being tossed about from bank to bank in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and who knows where. As far as I know, I’m a felon there, wanted for bank fraud.

I hope they don’t call and say I’ll be arrested if I don’t send them $500 in Target gift cards to pay the fine! I mean, what if Target is closed? I hope they take Visa.

[email protected] • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks

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