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Friday, May 15, 2009

Identity Theft

Marshall Massey (author of the Earth Witness blog) posted on Facebook this morning a reference to Matthew 18: 23-35, a passage about forgiveness in the face of being owed money. Interesting timing since I am trying to sort out my feelings about an unsettling experience yesterday.

I had an appointment with my podiatrist, whose office building gives a discount for the valet parking lot next door. I gave my key to the valet, entered the building, stopped at the bathroom (relevant because it means I was in the building for longer than a minute), and then sat down to wait to be called. I decided to get my health insurance card out while I waited and discovered that my wallet was not in my backpack. Thinking I must have left it in the car, I went back to the parking attendant at the little booth, but they couldn’t find my key, which was my first indication that something was amiss. Another valet helped me look for my car, in which I found the first valet sitting in the driver’s seat with my wallet open on his lap, a credit card in his hand, as well as a piece of paper on which he had written my name, credit card number, expiration date, and security code. When I opened the door and confronted him, he claimed he had found the wallet on the floor and was just going to turn it in. He handed me the wallet and upon my insistence, the paper with my credit information on it (a dry cleaning receipt that had been in the door pocket). I took my wallet and paper and went back into the office, where I discovered that $20 was missing. I came back out and confronted the valet again, to more denials. He tried to make it sound like I was just a suspicious person who was falsely accusing him. Not getting any satisfaction, I went back to the doctor’s office because I didn’t want to miss an appointment that usually takes months to get. I had another appointment after that on the other side of town, which is why I had driven in the first place, so I kept on my original schedule. It didn’t really occur to me to call the police, though almost everyone I’ve spoken to since has said I should have. I should have asked to talk to a manager, too, but that didn’t really occur to me either, especially after a different valet came inside to speak to me. He asked me what had happened and shook his head sympathetically when he saw the paper with my credit card information written on it. He offered me two phone numbers, his and their manager’s, though he also asked to copy the paper with my credit information on it, something I found odd. When I got home I called the police and two officers came by the house to take a report, so at least there is a record of this incident if I have any credit problems in the future. I also notified both my credit card companies and am trying to figure out whom at the Podiatry hospital I should notify.

Although I’ve done the practical things I can to protect my credit, I still feel unsettled this morning. I find myself being mistrustful, double checking that I’ve locked the car door, wondering if the guy who gave me the phone numbers and asked to copy the paper was really trying to be helpful or was somehow “in on it,” and giving me the phone number of someone who wouldn’t really do anything, so I would drop it. I find myself wondering if I should have called the police right away, not so I would get my $20 back, but so this guy wouldn’t do the same thing to someone else–which is where I find myself getting confused about the concept of forgiveness. In the Matthew 18 story, both the men who owed money begged for forgiveness, and the message is clear: we should forgive. But owing money is different than theft, and this guy never asked for forgiveness. What if someone denies wrongdoing and might do the wrong again if unstopped? What is the loving response to a person who denies doing something we witnessed firsthand? I think forgiving in my heart is still appropriate, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get the guy fired, too. I can’t help recalling that some money went missing from my car two years ago–just after my last visit to the podiatrist–and I remember pushing out of my mind my suspicion of the valets, not wanting to falsely accuse them. The memory of that incident makes me wonder if there is systematic theft going on here, which only feeds my mistrust of the man who gave me the phone numbers.

I think of myself as a trusting person. I’m finding the (temporary) loss of that self-identity to be much more disturbing than the loss of $20, though the prospect of the other kind of identity theft is unsettling, too.


Blogger one raised eyebrow said...

Hi Eileen,

I am sorry to hear that this happened to you and I agree about the trust issue. Losing the sense of trust and gaining a sense of fear is worse than anything physical that can be stolen.

sending hugs,

12:06 PM  
Blogger Philip Jones said...

As many people have probably told you by now, one important reason to report something like this to the police is so that they have a record of an event that they can, perhaps, connect to similar events in the area, and so establish a pattern. So I'm glad you did call them, and that they took it seriously.

When our son was still in high school he was robbed at gunpoint just off Gowen Avenue, in East Mt. Airy, around the corner from a teacher's house. He was very shaken up, but didn't want to call the police. We finally persuaded him that it was worth it for his teacher's sake far more than for his own.

That sidesteps the whole issue of forgiveness, however. But then he was 16 or so; not an age when such thoughts are uppermost. You're at least 29, which puts you in a whole different category. ;-)

1:59 PM  
Blogger naturalmom said...

Eileen, I'm sorry this happened to you. It sure would shake me up too. As for forgiveness, I don't think forgiveness always involves letting someone "off the hook". Sometimes it does, as in when you forgive a debt someone can't repay, but other times it just means you won't hold a grudge or seek vengeance. I think this case seems more like the latter. Another example might be when you forgive your child for breaking your favorite mug, but still expect them to clean up the mess.

In fact, the story in Matthew implies that being the recipient of forgiveness comes with some level of responsibility -- to forgive others perhaps, or to right the wrong as best one can, or maybe just to try one's best not to repeat the mistake.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I'm sorry that happened! I agree with naturalmom - you are no less forgiving if you take steps to protect yourself and others from someone who would prey upon them - as long as you are not trying to hurt them just to hurt them, which you would never, ever do.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

I was all but shaken down in a car lot a few years ago by the valet staff insisting on a hefty tip. Thick Russian accents, under the circumstances it certainly felt mob connected. One of them glared menacingly at me as I drove out warning me never to come back there again. A valet service would make a perfect identity-theft front: they have all the time they need to look through your car looking for documents. I'm sorry to hear about this. Hope you're okay and glad you discovered it.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

The loving response to someone who is doing wrong is to call them on it, and tell them to stop. They are hurting themselves and you and society. They need to stop. Calling in the police, the doctor's office and the valet service sliumatumanager is entirely appropriate. That is society agreeing that the action is contrary to good order.
I have just had to do this, although not under your circumstances. I did not name what was happening theft - it wasn't as clear cut as yours. I just listed the activities to those with responsibility. I understand the person I am accusing of wrong doing is under pressure, I am forgiving, but I want that person to understand that the action cannot continue.
I find I am kind but quite skeptical around that person...

5:34 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks all for your comments and support. I learned today that the valet who copied my credit information (and probably stole my $20) was suspended when his supervisor heard my story and will be fired tomorrow, if he hasn't been already.

Last night at our Quakerism 101 class someone asked how committed to non-violence Quakers really are if we are willing to have armed police protect us. I wonder if that was my discomfort about calling the police on the spot. I have no qualms about getting the guy fired so he can't do the same to someone else or of making a report to the police after the fact. But I think the idea of calling in the police to confront the guy in the act made me nervous, possibly because of the possibility of violence. I was sent another comment off line by a Friend who wondered if there might have been a loving way of confronting the man on the spot--asking when I noticed the missing money if he needed a gift of $20, rather than showing anger. Still pondering that one, though at the moment I have to say such a thing did not occur to me.

Still learning how to be my best self in the moment. Now off to a school concert.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Identity thieves are just like other thieves they just do their job on the internet.

How to avoid identity theft

7:09 AM  

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