Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

I saw a little item in the gripe column of the local paper this morning that caught my eye. It was from a person who should only get coal in their stocking next Christmas. The gripe was that their neighbors put up "sprawling Christmas Lights" in their yard which offended the writer. Mr or Ms Scrooge complained that neighbors should have more respect for their neighbors tastes and sensibility. I agree, but not with Scroogy. Its once a frelling year. Get a life and may the three ghosts visit you next December.

Now, I could write the newspaper and complain about the rich man who lives across the lake from us and who enjoys setting off fireworks almost every night during the summer and on every conceivable holiday. Terrifies my poor rescue Rottie so that she won't leave the house. I know the man doesn't mean any harm with his fireworks habit...just clueless, that's all. Ah, speaking of clueless....yes that little story was a lead in to the real subject of this Blog. Remember Clueless Claudine of New Years Day fame?

The subject of this Blog is to warn all you out there in Blogland that it isn't a good idea to give into momentary frustration and negative emotion and write an anonymous bitch note on the back of a charge sales slip with some of your personal information on it and then place it on the windshield of a stranger's car. Especially when you accuse that stranger of incorrect wrong doing and stupidity. I get it that Claudine is like the writer of the Christmas light grump. She doesn't like anybody to park on her street across from her mega million faux Mediterranean McMansion. Not even for a holiday party she probably wasn't invited to. Her unwarranted nasty scribbles paint a picture of her as one of those who is self entitled and not sensitive to anyone else.

Whatever. I've had lots of experience dealing with all sorts of live by their moods cantankerous condescending types in my years in fund raising for the arts and while helping my ex-husband build several very successful businesses. Generally, I ignore them. I admit I don't like them much and am not at all impressed. I shrug and walk away and am grateful that I don't have to hang around them on a regular basis. Sometimes they make great characters in my stories and poems with names changed to protect the guilty.

But here's the thing in the Claudine story: there is no such thing as anonymity anymore. I might have been a criminal, scammer, or flat out meanie instead of an upright honest citizen. When I stopped chuckling about the nasty epistle on the day spa slip back I said to Danny, "Couldn't the wrong sort of person get enough information from this slip to make some body's life really miserable?" He laughed and said, "Oh yeah." When we got home five minutes later, he said, "Do you want to see how easy it is?" I said, "Nah, I don't give a rat's ass." But of course, Danny being an IT guy loves playing with computers. After all, he has 40 sitting around, give or take a few at any time, in various stages of dismantle and rebuild prior to giving them away to those in need in financially challenged situations.

I went to check my email and in the time it took me to access AOL on my very fast desktop, Danny had pages of personal information on Claudine on one of his computer screens. All the information was obtained from search engines easily usable and familiar to the casual PC user. All legal public information if you know where to look. I shudder at what a hacker or scammer or another professional IT person could have done should they have wanted to go further. Forget about some nut or stalker with a grudge.

What sort of things came up faster than the Enterprise could make the jump to lightspeed? Full name including maiden name, marital history, employment history, list of all business started and owned, husband's profession, address, personal cell phone number, address with pictures of exterior and interior of house, tax records and sales records for house, cost of the house, several notations of social events attended and with whom, and a article on a recent death in the extended family. I asked if a hacker could access financial records from the partial Visa account numbers on the charge slip. Danny nodded affirmative as he closed the files on Claudine and switched over to checking his own email while I shuddered. It was creepy.

He said, "You really should send the sales slip and note back to that woman and warn her to be more careful." I replied that I didn't want to have any personal dealings with her. So, I'm going to throw the note away next time I clean off the piles of stuff on my home office desk. But, I am warning you about being careful to give out any personal information that you don't have to give out. In 2009 it isn't so much Big Brother watching that we have to be concerned about. It is us, each other, watching everyone everywhere at any given time. Be kind, be smart, be careful. Ta.

PS: And they told us they couldn't find Osama Bin Laden? Very interesting that, eh?

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