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June 9, 2024

I did not go to college right out of high school. I did eventually get a college education including a master’s degree. It was over a long period of time so I was in my 40s when I was finished.

My degree took many more than four years and crossed many technological mileposts that a four-year degree would not have done. Degrees tend to become obsolete because the world changes. Think of what you learned in high school and college and how much has changed, even if you graduated within the last 10 years. In my capstone course (“Capstone course is a term that is synonymous with ‘culmination project’ or ‘senior thesis.’ Most capstone courses have multiple components, including oral and written deliverables.”), my topic was identity theft. It left me shaken for life. It has affected me. It has caused rituals.

I’m not superstitious. I don’t fear black cats, umbrellas, ladders, or specific Fridays. I don’t bless sneezers and ask they treat me the same. Still, I have rituals. You may have the same ones. If not, you should. You may have related rituals I do not. I hope you will share them in a letter to the editor for the benefit of everyone.

I currently take two prescription medicines. When I finish one, I remove the top, put the bottle in a coffee cup, and fill the bottle with water. I let the bottle overflow until the cup fills up. I want the pill bottle to be totally submerged and I don’t want to waste any more water than necessary. I leave the bottle submerged for a while then remove it and scrape the label off with my thumbnail. The whole label. I leave no part of that label unscraped. My personal information is on the label. The scrapings are like little boogers and I put them in my wastebasket.

When a charge card, debit card, ID card, or any card with my name, picture, or personal information is replaced, I shred the card. I don’t fold it or break it, I shred it. I prefer a crosscut shredder. Think little footballs or confetti, NOT spaghetti strips. The shredder contents go into the wastebasket.

I get scads of junk mail. Wastebasket. I get mail from doctors, insurance agents, post offices, government offices, etc. Wastebasket.

When I worked for USBank, the team was informal in a lot of ways. Cliff was the top guy, four levels above me. His office was just around the corner and if you didn’t know who Cliff was you wouldn’t know who Cliff was. Cliff was an aviation enthusiast. He was building his own plane. He subscribed to aviation magazines. Cliff would leave his old magazines in the break room. He had no rituals. I told Cliff he should remove the mailing label. It contained his name and home address. I removed such labels before sharing or trashing my magazines. Personal information. Wastebasket.

I specify wastebasket because we burn things in our wastebasket. We carefully monitor these fires to make sure that everything is burned completely. Ritual. For a while, my wife used to think I was being irrationally manic about identity theft. Reaction worse than the actual problem. She has come around and is now on my page or ahead of me in rituals and concerns.

I’m not wealthy. I don’t own a huge estate or a lot of worldly stuff. You may be thinking that you don’t have the kind of worldly goods others lust after. You don’t feel need to guard against extremes because you have little or nothing others would want. You need to disabuse yourself of that kind of thinking immediately for a number of reasons.

First, your identity is the most valuable thing you will ever own. Identity theft has been the fastest growing crime in the world every year at least since my capstone class in the early 2000s. Careless people make it attractive because they downplay it. With just a few pieces of data, someone can open a credit card in your name and run up huge debt. You are innocent but you are burned. Google it and see what a nightmare it is once you are in its grasp.

The same can happen to your children. Children too young to have an online identity. Years ago, Channel Four in Pittsburgh (Wendy Bell) did a story featuring my family. My son, not even in school at the time, was getting bombarded by offers for credit cards. The numbskulls doing the story included a picture of one of the offers on TV. With my son’s name and our address.

Not all threats are monetary. Consider someone stealing your identity who has a fondness for inappropriate activity with children. It has happened. Imagine virtually any criminal activity by someone using your identity. It has happened. There was a very good movie in 2013, “Identity Thief”, with Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. It was a comedy but the topic was not funny. Real to life.

There are some things today that were not available when I first started to panic. There is a company called LifeLock that offers protection and repair for stolen identities, including a very large insurance policy. Believe it, recovery from identity theft is not quick or cheap. LifeLock was bought by Symantec, the computer security company. The service used to be free but costs a bit now. Yearly subscription. Some insurance companies offer protection policies as do some banks. My wife tells me PNC has it. This protection is in the same league of necessary protection as carbon monoxide detectors. I say that in all seriousness and with as strong a recommendation.

If you don’t have rituals relating to identity security, you should. The damage thieves could do to you dwarf a simple home robbery. Damage lasts longer and will certainly cost more over time. A name is precious. I have rituals to protect mine. You should too.

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