Identity Theft, Hacking, Fraud. Yes, I am angry!

I am rushing on the way to a much needed manicure when I feel my phone buzz in my pocket.  I look at the incoming message.

Your PayPal account has been credited with $489 to xyxy airlines.

What the – I haven’t bought any tickets.  Another buzz.

Your PayPal account has been credited with $576 to xyxy.

I immediately know I am being hacked.  I panic.  I try to log onto PayPal.  My account is not accepting my password.  The same password that I was made to change when I discovered my account had been hacked just LAST WEEK.  I try again.  Nope, still not accepting it.  How can this be?  How can this fucking be?  I start to breathe heavily.  How much money have they taken?  How have they taken it, since I know I have absolutely no money in my account.

I ring PayPal.  Please press 1 for this, please press 2 for that.  I start to shake violently.  BLOODY AUTOMATED SYSTEMS!!!!  Eventually, I get through to the option that covers being hacked.  It’s called press 5 for all other enquiries.  I press 5.  I’m taken through another series of options.  For God’s sake can they not tell how serious this is!!  Again, I press 5 for ‘other’.  I am asked for the password to my account, but I know it won’t work.  I’m stuck.  OMG I’m going to have some person taking as much money from my account as they can muster only 8 weeks before christmas and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it because I’M TALKING TO A FRIGGIN MACHINE!!!

Eventually, Michelle (that’s what I called the voice in the time it took me to get this far) senses (I’m assuming) that I am stuck.  If you cannot remember your password, please enter the last four digits of the credit card that is linked with your PayPal account.  I know that I have deleted all but two of my cards.  The one has no money in it…OMG it is Dee’s card.  I slowly press in the last 4 digits of his card.  Thank you, we are putting you through to an operator.

I close my eyes.  Please do not let it be Dee’s card, I quietly pray.

“How can I help you Ma’am?’

“Please, please help me, I’ve been hacked.  There are amounts coming off of my account.  Purchases I haven’t made.”

“Can I start with your email address please.”

I swallow.  Seriously?  I rattle off my email address.

“Can I have the password on your account?”

“Well, you can, but it won’t help.  My password isn’t working.  I changed it just last week when my account was hacked then.  These guys obviously have your system taped.  Are you sure it isn’t an inside job?  Please close down my account. Please close down my account!”

“Okay, Ma’am, I’m sorry to hear of the stress you are going through.  I’m just looking at your account and a number of purchases have been made recently.  Have you made any purchases recently.”

I’m almost like a crazed tiger now.  “NO, I haven’t, I haven’t used my account since, well, I don’t know when, A VERY LONG TIME.  Close the account, PLEASE close the account.”

“I can’t close the account I am afraid.  I have to raise a dispute (don’t you just love the word ‘dispute’ – that so understates what this actually IS!’) and then once we have resolved (I REALLY hope this means arrested the guy) the issue we can credit your account, and then, if you want, we can close down your account.”

There are so many things wrong with this conversation – lack of urgency, lack of understanding, an almost too-familiar tone to his voice.  Does this happen a lot?

“Please, I need you to stop anyone from getting access to this account.  I can’t get into it, no-one else should be able to either.”

“Ma’am (I’m starting to get REALLY annoyed with being called Ma’am), I have put a lock down on your account.  No-one can access it.  We will be in touch with you when we have resolved the issue.  Is there anything else, today, Ma’am?”

Anything else! Anything else!  Is this for real?  I know he is doing his job, but Is There Anything Else?

“No, please let me know ASAP when the dispute has been resolved!”

“We will do Ma’am.  Have a good day.”

My beauty therapist looks at me.  “Not a great start to the week then?”

I roll my eyes, fighting the back the anxiety attack I’m about to have.  What was meant to be a relaxing time having my nails done is now time stressing about how much money has been taken.  Do I phone Dee now, wait until the dispute is over, what should I do.

I leave the salon.  My phone rings.  It’s Dee.

“Hi my love, where are you?”

“I’m just leaving the salon.  I’ll be home soon.”

“No, don’t, I’m at the Centre.  Let’s grab coffee and then head off to the nursery.”  We are doing our garden and are off to the nursery to choose our plants.

I meet Dee at our usual place.

“Dee, someone has hacked into my PayPal account again.  There have been a number of large withdrawals using your credit card.”

He looks at me.  “How much?”

I shake my head.  “I don’t know.  About $800 I think.”

He pulls out his phone, immediately logging into his account.  He gasps.  I look over and see one amount after another taken from the account over a three day period.  Hot tears slide down my cheek.  This is A LOT worse than I thought.

“I am so so sorry.” I whisper.

“Sarah, this is not your fault.  It’s okay.  I’ll just contact the bank, they’ll cancel the card and reissue.  It is okay and this is NOT your fault.”

I hear the words, but I don’t believe them.  I think of all the things I have bought online, many without really checking if they are from secure sites, and wonder if my carelessness has brought this about.  It is so easy to buy stuff online these days, SO easy.  We all do it, right?

No-one is meant to store your card details, but we have no way of knowing if they are actually disposing of them do we? I mean, I was hacked on PayPal just last week and now, not 7 days later, I’m hacked again.  Also, in this time I have also had my Ebay account hacked and an attempt on my personal bank account.  A serious effort to steal my identity is being made here.

I suddenly feel violated.  HOW DARE THEY?  I don’t care if it is a risk we take by buying online, much like it was a risk that the bank you stored your money in (back when ACTUAL money was stored in banks) ran the risk of being knocked over by bank robbers, THIS IS WRONG!  I consider closing everything down and storing my money under my mattress.

The feeling of violation lugs with me throughout this day. I feel very heavy.  I think of how much we have handed over as a society.  So much freedom, so much of ourselves is given away through operating online.  I try to keep perspective.  I love to shop online with its choice and competition.  The social outlet has been a god send for a natural recluse like me.  But at what cost?  Is it worth it?  I simply do not know.  All I do know is that Dee and I have been left with a massive hole in our bank account, and right now someone somewhere is planning a trip (airline tickets, remember) with my details.  It’s scary and it makes me wonder if we sacrifice too much for global connectivity.


Migraines, ID theft and Accidents

I was first introduced to buddhism when I was 14 years old.  My boyfriend’s mother was a strong follower and on my first visit to their house she told me that buddha had four noble truths.  The first, she said, was that life is difficult.

I was 14.  And Buddha was clearly wrong.  At least he was to a girl whose sole purpose in life was to seek pleasure.

Buddha, however, managed to get under my skin.  I loved his philosophies of compassion, kindness and non-violence and tried to live my life according to these principles.  Yet, I could not believe the blanket statement; that life is difficult.  Every fibre in my teen, twenty-something and even thirty-something body screamed that life was not meant to be difficult. Difficulty was not why we were born.

Then, this week happened.  Let me paint a picture, if you would be so kind as to indulge me a tad:

Life was going well.  I had been on anti-depressants for over three years following the trauma of sobriety (more details in another blog perhaps), and the death of my mother.  But, the time had come when I realised I no longer needed them.  I was, in essence, happy (Yay for me!).  Sure, the withdrawal was a little crappy.  Well, okay, a lot crappy, but I felt like I would finally understand what life was meant to be.  Despite everything that had been thrown at me, I was going to live that happiness, savour it, and I could finally experientially prove my still firm belief that Buddha was wrong, that we are not, indeed, living in a world of samsara (suffering).

Monday; I get two emails from Ebay congratulating me on purchases I have not made.  Later that day I receive a phone call from the bank asking me if I tried to make a $450 payment with a credit card I have not used in years.  Then, later still, a debit is made from my account in the amount of $52 to PayPal.  I check my PayPal account and a purchase has been made from Walmart to some address in Ohio, US.  I spend the entire remainder of my day sorting out things with Ebay, PayPal and my bank.  I have to close down my credit card account, open another one, change passwords, change security questions.  My identity is at risk, apparently.  They have access to my credit card details and have changed details of my account.

Tuesday; I’m feeling refreshed, having brushed off my near identity theft.  The day bumbles along.  I continue to spring clean my life, which includes spring cleaning my house.  I sort out cupboards and bake a date loaf to boot.  Oh yeah, baby, I am on fire!  I pick up JC from school.  He is grumpy but that doesn’t phase me.  Before long I have managed to get him to laugh.  This is a rare feat and I want to shout it from the mountain tops.  The sun is shining, there is little traffic on the road and we are laughing out loud.  SMACK!  Both JC and I are flung forward.  It takes seconds for me to realise we have been rear-ended.

“Are you okay,” I ask JC.  He shakes his head, but I can see his is physically okay.  The emotional trauma of his first car accident will have to come later.  I look in the rear-view mirror.  A 50-something woman has hit me.  She doesn’t get out of the car.  I get out, look at the damage on my car and realise just how hard she hit me.  I walk up to her window.  She winds down her window.  Kindness, compassion, non-violence.  

“Are you okay?” I ask the woman.

“Well, I would be if you hadn’t stopped so suddenly.”

Breathe, I tell myself, just breathe.  We continue onto the side of the road where we exchange details.  She is in shock, irritated.  I am angry at her.  For hitting me, for putting JC in danger, for not apologising.  I drive off and the shock starts to settle.  I turn to JC.

“Love, forgive me for what I’m about to do… FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!”

He smiles at the fallibility of his mother.  Thankfully, we are only five minutes away from home.  JC is in shock.  He feels sick.  I promise to make him pancakes with syrup on them.  He devours them telling me over and over again that this is his first accident, that he can’t possibly go to school the following day.

I phone Dee.  Hearing his voice enables me to break down.  I sob.  I let myself go, wholeheartedly.

We spend the remainder of the day sorting out the insurance.

Wednesday; I’m okay.  My neck hurts and JC is at home recuperating from his “life altering trauma” (got to love the mind of a 14-year-old).  I meet Jay and Baby C.  He gets his first taste of solids today – it is a GREAT day.  We laugh and I feel so grateful that I am able to be in this moment, share this moment.  I ignore the thudding at the base of my skull.  Just a head ache.  By the time I have come home, my head is pounding.

“Mum, I need to do my project, but I only want to start it at 5.”  I look at my watch.  4pm.  An hour to medicate, rest and let the headache dissipate.

JC wakes me at 5.  I am unable to lift my head.  “I can’t JC.  I can’t help you.”

“Don’t worry mum, I’ll just ask for another extension.”  Damn, damn, damn this headache!  I drag myself out of bed.  Take the laptop through to the dining area and get JC to sit next to me.  “Let’s do this,” I say.  In minutes I am seeing double and in agony.  JC takes the laptop from me.

“It’s okay, mum.  I’ll do it.  You just go to bed.”

I can’t argue.  I have no power to argue.  I return to bed.

A few hours pass and I slip in and out of sleep through an agonising clamp on my head.  In the time I am asleep, JC has finished his project, walked over to his grandparents house who have fed him and Dee has come home.  I finally wake with a less clamping thud in my head.

“How are you, my love?” Dee asks as he hands me the dinner he has cooked for me.  I nod, not feeling totally well, but not as awful as I was before.

“Mum, mum, I finished my project.  All. By. Myself.  I’m going to do my homework from now on.”  He is beaming and the pride in my heart is superseding the pain right now.  This is so huge.  SO HUGE.

Thursday;  I wake to a still dull thud in my head.  It grows throughout the day and I realise that perhaps the impact of the crash has given me whiplash.  I am in need of a new prescription for the only drug I take now, the one I cannot live without, thyroxin, so I make an appointment to see the doctor.  My appointment is at 4.  I relax at home, try to ignore my headache.  I sort through photographs for new frames I have bought.  I miss family.  I miss friends.  I have resolved to put them around me, in frames.

4pm arrives, I make my way to the doctor.  “Hood morning, Sarah, vat can I do for you?”  My lovely doctor is a bristly Croatian and I love her.  I tell her of the accident and my subsequent migraine.  She examines my neck and head.  I have no physical pain.  She looks at her computer.

“Ve removed the mirena three veeks ago?”

I nod.  It was the last of the drugs that I gave up, no more artificial stuff inside my body.

“It is probably vour hormones dat is causing the migraines.  The mirena resists the hormones.”

“Oh,” I say.

“You are nearing that age when your hormones vill play havoc.”

I look at her.  I’d say the thumping headache was havoc.  I also suddenly feel like a shrivelled up prune.

I get my thyroxin prescription and head home.

Thursday night; Thirty years after hearing about the first noble truth, I am ready, Buddha, to admit you are right.  Life is hard – it is FUCKING hard.  It was always hard.  I admit it, I am a slow learner.

Now, bring on the second noble truth baby!!