The Other Shoe


I apologize for not being more engaged the last couple months. I am determined to complete the work on the Mac Showers book, and wondering if I will ever have the time to get to the projects beyond that. I need to buy some of that most precious commodity a human being has.

There have been changes to incorporate into the daily routine here. The rhythm of life has changed over the course of fixing whatever that strange neurological episode was that started late last summer. I am still up around the same time, though have abandoned the iron resolve that had me sipping fresh-brewed exotic coffee and staring at the computer at the usual time- 0445.

Maybe it was the flu or the nausea that killed my desire for the stimulant that I based my career on, but I found myself lolling in bed, salving my work ethic by catching up on the torrent of email that piles up every night, along with the annoying updates from Mark Zuckerburg and his appalling Facebook site, and the stray Tweets from people I do not know who seem very upset about something.

Anyway, that was not the routine this morning. I decided to screen the mail from the comfort and privacy of my brown chair in the living room, and I turned on the flat screen to survey what the storm had brought to us this morning. And then I began to consider what had happened the previous afternoon as the warmth of the steaming java began to course through my veins.

I have not ventured outside yet- I am taking a snow day and thankful that the industry day I had been scheduled to attend was cancelled. I roused briefly a little before five and peeked out to see if anything had happened overnight. It had, but it was just a couple inches of white stuff, nothing a Michigan kid would consider serious- except for the knowledge that there are Maryland and Virginia drivers out there intent on killing themselves and anyone they encounter on the roadways.

So, trapped in the apartment for a while, I decided to tell you about the Adventure of the Other Shoe.

The first one dropped with the obscene hack against OMB, ostensibly by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 2015. The incompetents at the Office managed to permit the transfer all our personal data direct to the hackers.

All of it: personal information, family names and addresses, socials, contacts, financial disclosure forms and all the rest. I did not panic at the time, though I thought strong methods were only prudent. I went to the three credit reporting agencies and put a freeze on my credit.

The practical effect of this blunt force option is that anyone seeking to open a new credit based account will be refused access and the application- for real estate, diamonds, or such- will theoretically be denied. And theoretically I would be notified. If someone else wasn’t pretending to be me.

I know, I know, there are a lot of people who need credit and rely on shifting things around to keep their financial boats afloat. I had to do that frequently when the divorce was fresh and the kids were both in college. Moving debt from one account to another was a frequent tactic to keep the creditors at bay and take advantage of promotional interest rates.

Freezing your credit means that no new accounts could be opened. For the last two years, there was no activity on my credit reports in which I was not complicit- like pulling the freeze for a couple days while I got pre-qualified for a loan on the retirement fantasy home, apprehensive that the Chinese would pounce on the temporary vulnerability. That never happened, but going through the drill gave me a certain amount of comfort, though I left the freeze in place.

Yesterday was a day of apprehension. The big storm was coming in, predicted to happen at Happy Hour, which it did. There was a full menu of things today, including an early departure from the residence and an all-day conference a the glittering palace that is the new National Geospatial Intelligence Agency down near Ft. Belvoir. Things were tense, waiting to see what particular brand of lunacy on the part of responsible personnel would hold. Would we have to venture out on whatever came from the sky? Would we overreact? That is something that comes naturally here.

I was toggling back and forth from the websites of the Office of Personnel Management and the professional association that was sponsoring the conference. The Association caved first, and cancelled with the new date “To be determined.” I breathed a sigh of relief. The predictions were for the wintery mix to start around Happy Hour, and the gang agreed via email that it would be prudent to get a modest snoot-full prior to the roads becoming too treacherous. Accordingly, it was a full house at the Front Page and a raucous celebration erupted, fueled by the idea that it would be smart to blow off some of the impending enforced cabin fever and be home for the main event.

Which is why I felt relaxed enough once the cancellations started coming in to go down to the lobby and get my daily hug from Rhonda and check the mail. The hug is always good. The mail normally less so. I have lived in several units at Big Pink, and periodically I get mail in a bundle that has been slotted to my previous addresses. I got that from Rhonda and checked the regular mailbox. Junk, of course, and solicitations that were also junk. Plus a slim envelope from a bank whose name I did not recognize.

I opened it by the lobby trash can, for which I am just a middle man between the Postal Service and the recycling people. That is when the other shoe fell.

I was left with one solicitation to which I may or may not contribute- my ardor for the endless campaign has waned a bit. The one from the mystery financial institution- a firm called “Comenity Capital Bank” was a two page affair, one page, front and back in English, and the second page in Spanish, which went promptly into the trash can.

The English version was troubling enough, and I read it the first time with mild disbelief. The words were polite enough, since apparently we have rights as potential debtors. The bank deeply regretted that my application for a Zales Jewelry Store Credit Card had been reviewed and regretfully declined, since my credit reports were locked.

The other shoe had finally impacted the floor.

F**k! The bank is in Ohio, and is the executive agent for the Zales concern. I have not been in the Buckeye State in a while, except on matters requiring innocent passage, and I would never visit the Columbus metro area in any case. I had certainly not identified a requirement to purchase expensive jewelry on a revolving line of credit. The letter concluded by advising me to call Experian if I had any questions about the fact that someone had all my personal information and desired a nice sparkly tennis bracelet, ring and broach combination.


So there went the afternoon that might have been more profitably spent drowsing in my chair, waiting for the storm.

After the OPM hack in 2015, the government provided three years of credit monitoring to ensure that nobody complained overmuch about their negligence. Why only three is a bit baffling- I mean, am I going to be able to change my birthday and social security number then? Mom’s maiden name?

There are 22 million of us who had supplied excruciatingly personal information in our applications for security clearances- the dreaded Standard Form 86- and all of it was long gone.

I sighed. Someone involved in the hack had sold off the information on the dark web, and all my crap is out there to be picked off and used to purchase cars and houses and fancy jewels. So, off to the races we went. I called Experian and eventually got to a fellow who spoke with heavy accent who claimed to be named ‘Andy,’ who may (or may not) have been working in a call center in the U.S.

He opened my credit file after a long series of questions to confirm my identity. Naturally, all the answers to the questions he asked were also contained in the SF-86, so I am not completely sure that anything is secure for us any more. He told me the credit freeze was still in effect, and the application had been denied.

He then solicitously told me to contact the bank in Ohio, file a police report with the local cops to document the assault, and then contact the other two credit reporting bureaus- Equifax and TransUnion- and report fraud.

It took a couple hours to get through the calls. I have reported fraud to the Arlington police, placed alerts in my credit files, agreed to pay for a new monthly monitoring service that advertised instant alerts for new applications for credit in my name, and ensured the freeze remained in effect.

Then I went to Happy Hour and enjoyed the beginning of the storm, finishing in my brown chair, looking out the window at the flag that gallantly waved in the freshening breeze and blowing snow.

I had hoped there might be safety in numbers- 22 million files is a lot to plow through- but I guess my number finally came up. You might want to start thinking about what to do to protect yourself before some slimeball decides their significant other really needs more diamonds. From you.


Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra

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