Not I, Said the Identity Theft Victim
You find a wallet. In it are IDs, few credit cards, and a small wad of cash. Instantly, you’re torn. On the one hand, turning it in is the right thing to do. On the other, that money would feel really good in your pocket. The context of your life–whether you’re rich or poor; a one percenter, a ninety-nine percenter or a forty-seven percenter; a child or an adult; sick or healthy–doesn’t matter. The owner’s life doesn’t matter either. In that instant, no matter the context, those two options rest at the polar extremes of your options. What do you do?
Yesterday was perhaps the last warm, sunny, Indian Summer day of the year, the forecast calling for cold, rain, and snow over the next few. It was a bittersweet joy that my roommate and I collected our things and wound our way Westward to the South Boulder Rec Center for a couple rounds of disc golf.
The two of us, as well as several other friends, have been making regular pilgrimages to wide open fields beside Fairview High School, flying our slender discs in relaxed and friendly competition. My roommate calls it exercise. I call it a good excuse for social time outside. After a mediocre first round, I decided I would turn it into a work out, punishing myself with push ups for every errant toss; and there were many errant tosses. With each forceful thrust away from the ground, my weary arms grew more tired, which in turn meant more poor throws and more push ups.
By the time we finished our second round, I glistened lightly with sweat and heat, my shoulders ached in the best possible way, and I felt hazily happy in the late autumn warmth. It was the perfect farewell to the summer, a soft embrace and a pleasant adieu.
I biked off to work, peddling furiously to arrive on time, my moment of bliss now past. Within a few blocks, I noticed my front tire was riding low, and upon further inspection I spotted a goathead nestled between the treads. The thorn itself was plugging the hole, keeping air from slipping too quickly from the tire. It was a happy happenstance, but given the timing, my early morning spent languishing in blissful ignorance, and my sorry lack of a patch kit, I had no choice but to stop and pick up a spare. Luckily, my favorite bike shop wasn’t far out of my way.
When I pulled up and ducked in, I swung my pack around and dug in looking for my wallet. As you can probably guess, my hand found a beautifully empty spot where the worn leather should’ve been. “Sorry,” I quickly stammered to the proprietor upon this revelation. I racked my brain, trying to remember if I had packed my wallet into my bag at all, or left it out in my room. I had no need for it playing disc golf or at work, so I figured I had simply set it safely aside. “I must’ve left my wallet at home. Thanks anyway,” I offered.
With that, I slipped back on my bike and rolled off toward work. The tire held well enough that my mind was able to wander and flit about. I considered other options: calling a friend for a ride home, asking a coworker, perhaps borrowing a pump from the school to refill just enough to get me home. Either way, it wasn’t the end of the world.
Unfortunately, none of the solutions work out: my coworkers lacked vehicles with the ability to transport my bike; my friends with vehicles were not available then; and the school lacked an accessible pump with the right valve. The tire, however, still held enough air to ride, so I leapt aboard once more a began to coast downhill homeward. Stupidly, I took a turn at high velocity and felt my front tire flex and shoot out from beneath the rim. I came crashing down, my right hand taking the brunt of the impact, my right should and hip, and my toes collecting the rest. I felt slightly battered, but more embarrassed as a pair of onlookers came to my aid. What bleeding I had wasn’t visible until I was home and had time to take stock of hidden injuries, so I brushed myself off, offered my thanks and rode slowly and carefully the rest of the way.
After cleaning my wounds and patching my tire, I began to search for my wallet. Slowly, my stomach began to sink, dropping into the depths of despair as nothing turned up. I was rescued from my overthinking by my evening plans, but in the back of my mind, the whereabouts of my wallet began to niggle and writhe, snapping me back soberly every time they jumped to the front of my thought.
I returned home shortly after eleven and began my search anew, but nothing. At that point, I felt resigned to the loss and held out hope that some good samaritan had found my wallet somewhere on the course and turned it in. I crawled into bed and attempted to sleep, but none would come. At two in the morning, I pulled myself from bed and decided to distract myself with reading and games. At five, my email beeped at me. My bank had overdrafted on charges.
Suddenly, my hopes were thrown out the window, my fears a reality, and my peace of mind gone.
They say I’m a victim of identity theft. It’s an odd title to hold. I’ve been blessed to avoid victimization most of my life, and this mild form of identity theft hardly seems worthy of the nomenclature. The charges, to Famous Footwear and a boutique in Boulder, imply the culprits are young and likely high school students. There are good odds that they were caught on camera at these locations, and combined with a yearbook, or even Facebook’s facial recognition software, there’s a good chance they can be tracked down. I seek only restitution and a return of my lost items.
The process after-the-fact is obtuse and riddled with potholes. Call credit card companies and cancel accounts, call bank and request new card, contact credit reports, file police report, contact the FTC, obtain a new social security card, a new driver’s license, new cards. Lost are my old student ID, my half-dozen incomplete punch cards, my cash. But what hurts the most is that I’ve been cleaned out. I’m not a man of means, my net worth at any given time lucky to be close to four digits, and now, in the lull between seasons when money is most scarce, this hurts.
And so, returning to the hypothetical, trying my best to empathize with the thieves, consider their state of mind, and allay my anger and betrayal with understanding, I’m left wondering what I would do. I know what I have done in the past and what I would do now, but how did I make those decisions? Would there ever be a situation in which I’d swing to the extreme? Is there a rational argument for any choice that holds water above morality?
There’s no right answer. There is at least one silver lining, however: I finally get a new driver’s license picture. Take that identity thieves!