I get a call the other day, automated, VISA randomly checking up on possibly suspicious credit card activity. I call back, a little leery, phishing expeditions rampant these days.  After pressing one touchtone key after another, I finally get a live voice, a sweet woman who tells me she can’t get into my account without my password.  Whichever one I came up with was the wrong one. Not to worry, she said. She’ll have someone call me. A security thing. 

A few minutes pass. No call. Of course now I’m worried, at the same time a little glad I forgot my password.  I go online, Google the number I called, mildly reassured that it really is from VISA.  To ratchet up the reassurance I call the customer support number on my credit card. Yes, the representative tells me, it was a legitimate call.  He asks me for my password. Again it escapes me, not being one I use regularly, and it’s nowhere in that secret place where I write down passwords. I tell him this is no silly senior moment, and maybe it’s a sign I should reset my password anyway. Not a problem, he says. He has the power to override the password, but only if we hang up and he calls me back at the phone number I give him. I’m starting to feel a little like a bit player in a spy movie. The only thing missing is the telephone booth.

My head is spinning now, all those passwords painstakingly constructed from very precise instructions: four-to-eight characters, all lower case, for one site; must be eight-to-forty characters long, only alphanumerical characters, dashes and underscores allowed, for another site; birth dates not advised. Then the password hints: first car, first pet, favorite movie, mother’s maiden name.  Now the conundrum: the very same consistency that makes for easy-to-remember passwords is the stuff of hackers’ dreams. Am I lazy if I decide on a password I’ve used elsewhere? Maybe.  Or am I just counting on odds? So many people to pick on in cyberspace, why bother with me?

I’m still waiting for my callback, time-traveling now, Allen Ludden on the TV screen, how quaint it all seems, two celebrity-contestant teams trying to outsmart each other with clues, a linguistic, charades-type endeavor, guess the password.  Whoever concocted the game was clearly ahead of his or her time.

The representative is back now, the questioned charge a very small one. I suppose I should be thankful for this random checking up; but before sending out an alert you would think someone might have noticed that there are two names on this credit card account, and this is hardly the first time a charge issued from the city where my daughter lives.  So be it.

Now it’s time to get to the matter at hand, changing my password. The one I have in mind is an unusual one (even a hacker would be hard put to crack the code) so I spell it out, which brings a peal of laughter from the representative. “That’s the password I thought I forgot – right?” He’s very amused, not a hint of condescension, and in total collusion when I suggest this is a password no one will ever guess, a little too good to give up.

Photo courtesy of Christine Boyka Kluge





11 thoughts on “Password(s)

  1. Hi Deborah… thanks for the post! I got a call the other day — telling me I would be served a summons if I didn’t pay over $500 within 45 minutes! Crazy. They refused to provide any documentation. Scary thing is, they had my social, birth date and DL #. When they asked if those numbers were mine, I said no. I ended up contacting the police and they told me they were getting a huge amount of calls for the same scenario. It’s pretty scary out there sometimes…

  2. Passwords drive me crazy. And PIN numbers. Good God! I think it’s all a conspiracy to fry our brain cells so we’ll watch Fox News and vote Republican.

    • Jayne, I was drinking a Diet Coke when I was reading your comment and nearly spit it out because I was laughing so hard. If you ask me, everything is a conspiracy to try to get us to vote Republican. 😉

  3. I’ve been there too many times to count. I think we are on the same wavelength once again as I’m in the midst of writing a “password” post too. The insanity of it all is beyond annoying, but your post wraps it up into one eloquent and humorous piece.

  4. This just happened to me on Sunday! I tried to buy a coffee at Starbucks and the my Visa/debit card wouldn’t go through. So I called the bank and they had decided that there was “suspicious activity” on my card and put a hold on it. The funny thing is that I use this card multiple times every single day,(I never carry cash anymore) so I have no idea why this happened! Great post as always!

  5. Passwords make me so nervous, but I hope you saw my comment on FB. Never give your password out to anyone over the phone. Not even the credit card companies will ask you for it. Sure, they’ll ask you for the last four digits of your social, but your password and/or PIN are sacred!

  6. The thing that comforts me most, and I’m afraid to write it because of the jinx factor, is that these password/scam-related activities occur far more regularly than random tax audits.

    I bought a little wire-bound notebook, stuck in some tabs for topics, and loaded it up with all the passwords I had on scraps of paper and in a disorganized, falling-apart, tab-less one. I disguise many of the important passwords with just enough info for me to remember, but not for the would-be criminal. It’s been a sanity-saver (Is that a writer’s oxymoron?). I highly recommend this–especially for multi-faceted password management, like parents’ finances, separate businesses, education, kid-related passwords, etc.

    I’m convinced that you could write about shoelaces and make it interesting, Deborah!

  7. Crazy!
    I’ve had some suspicious phone call too. And I find myself feeling hostile during the first few minutes of any phone call from a stranger. How sad.

    God knows, I can’t remember all the screen names, passwords and PIN numbers I have accrued. Now, thanks to speed dial and cell phone we don’t have remember phone numbers anymore. Perhaps this is a gift in disguise, a way to keep our memories sharp. Or, drive us completely insane.

  8. All of the technology that has been designed to simplify our life has actually made it so complex. I have such a love/hate relationship with it all. Thanks for sharing an experience we can all identify with and making me laugh.

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