Around the Bend: Theft was strangely reassuring

It’s not easy being scatterbrained.
My mind is constantly running in different directions, and I forget things. Just keeping track of my car keys occupies a good portion of my brain each day, and the portion that’s left can’t handle the remaining workload. I forget not only what things I need to do, but also whether I have — or have not — already done them. You can’t imagine the trouble this gets me into.
A few weeks ago, as I mentioned recently, I went all Rambo on the bank after discovering that someone had removed a sizeable sum from our checking account. It turned out to be an electronic transaction I had authorized but forgotten about.
Then a week later, my debit card was declined at the supermarket. This time, for real, someone must have broken into my account.
“You don’t understand,” I said to the cashier. “I just transferred in $100 before I left the house.”
“Of course you did,” she said, not smiling.
I left the groceries and marched to the bank. The teller looked up my account and nodded. “I see it right here,” she said. “A transfer for $100.”
“Aha!” I said, raising my arm and pointing my finger skyward like Joan of Arc, or perhaps Norma Rae. “Then why was my $46 debit declined?”
“Well, it seems you transferred $100 out of that account, not into it. Your balance is $4.19.”
To save face, I kept my finger pointed skyward while retreating backward out of the bank.
After a couple mistakes like that, a girl starts to doubt herself. So this past weekend, when an online retailer sent me an email saying someone had tried to open a second customer account in my name — and with my debit card number  — I hesitated.
A normal person would immediately flip out, but I had to take a moment to think: Could it have been me? (Sometimes I forget whether I’m a “new” or “returning” customer.) To be safe, I transferred all the money out of the bank account associated with my debit card and waited for the bank to open.
It took all my courage to call customer service the next morning. I was running 0-2 at this point and my confidence was shaken.
The employee who answered recognized my voice immediately. She put me on hold, no doubt so she and her coworkers could play rock-paper-scissors to decide who would have to deal with me this time.
The loser came on the line and logged into my account, saying with more than a little surprise, “Hmm. Actually, I’m seeing quite a few declined charges to this account over the weekend.”
Excellent. Now all we had to do was prove that I wasn’t the one behind them.
“Did you try to buy a Dell computer Saturday?” she asked.
“Absolutely not,” I said, adding, “at least, not that I recall.”
She sighed.
Well, I was pretty sure I hadn’t. But then, I hadn’t intended to transfer all but $4 out of my account just before a grocery run, either. Anything was possible.
“OK,” she said, moving on. “How about trying to charge $1,100 to a surf shop in California?”
I was almost sure that wasn’t me. I’ve never been to California and, if memory serves, I don’t surf.
“I’m going with ‘no’ on that one,” I said, locking in my answer. And so it went. In the end, the bank was able to confirm that my debit card had indeed been compromised.
I practically wept with joy.
Sure, I know some people would consider it a bad thing to have a criminal violate their security and attempt to steal thousands of dollars in merchandise, but for me it was a victory. For once I was a straight-up victim, not a scatterbrain who loses her car keys and is only 85 percent certain she did not buy a lifetime supply of surf wax over the weekend.
Even better, I learned that pretty much anyone with a credit card, debit card, bank account, checkbook, wallet or wampum belt is vulnerable to identity theft. Hear that? I’m normal.
Before wrapping up our phone call, the service rep encouraged me to take whatever precautions I could to help reduce the odds of another fraud, including changing all my passwords to something so random even I wouldn’t remember them.
“Trust me,” I told her. “That will not be a problem.”

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