It’s one of those things that happen to someone else. When you hear it, you shake your head and express your sympathy and breathe a sigh of relief that it was someone else, and not you. But last week it happened to me.
One morning last week, I checked my bank app and saw that there was a $50 “counter withdrawal” from an account we haven’t used in a few months. I went to the bank and inquired. The bank teller asked me if I knew anyone in the state of Delaware. I replied that I knew that Delaware was the First State of the Union, but that was about it. The teller printed the bank check that had been submitted and handed it to me. Sure enough, it had my name, bank number, and signature. The only problem was that I hadn’t commissioned it or signed it.
My bank contacted their Delaware branch and were informed that the person who made the withdrawal had submitted ID with his picture and all of my information. He provided my address, social security number, and phone number.
During the next few hours, I was busy securing my bank account and credit cards, and adding whatever precautions and added security measures I could. Then I went down to my local police station and filed a police report.
The officer who filed my report told me that I was the 17th person in June to file such a report. Since it was June 19, that meant that on average they dealt with one case of identity theft every day.
The bank had provided me with the driver’s license number that the scammer had provided along with my ID. The police officer looked up the number and saw that it was of a woman in Westchester. Her information had been compromised as well, which she was not even aware of. The expiration date the scammer provided didn’t match up with her license either, which means he mixed and matched information from different people.
At the suggestion of the police and my bank, I also opened an account with Experian to maintain constant monitoring of my credit.
It is a terrible feeling, not only when money is stolen from you, but also to know that someone is using your name and information.
One’s reputation is one of the most precious commodities he has. We all work hard to build and maintain a positive reputation, because that serves as our identity in the eyes of others. When someone steals or manipulates that identity, it is a very personal violation and a terrible feeling.
Who is the greatest victim of identity theft? Every one of us. One of the greatest tactics that our evil inclination employs is to confuse us about who we really are, and what defines us.
It is intriguing that we refer to a person who learns Torah as a “ben Torah” (a son of Torah), but a sinner as a “baal aveirah” (a husband of sin). Being a son is a permanent state, while a husband is based on marriage, a matter of choice. When one learns Torah and performs mitzvos, it becomes part of his essence. Since one’s essence is his soul, which is nourished through spiritual pursuits, all spiritual actions energize his soul and become part of his essence. When one commits a sin, however, it has a negative impact upon him, causing a spiritual dissonance. However, the sin does not become part of his essence. Rather, it is like a cancerous growth that must be removed. In that sense, the one who sins isn’t the “son of the sin” but the “husband of the sin,” who needs to divorce himself from the iniquities he committed.
The problem is that there is an inner voice that tells us that our mishaps and sins define us. It seduces us into believing that we are as lowly as our misdeeds. That is identity theft at its worst. When we begin to believe that we are someone other than who we are, we become the victims of the most cunning and egregious form of theft.
We, too, have security systems that can protect us. Works of musar and chasidus help us maintain perspective – not only of right and wrong, but also of who we are and what defines us. We should take advantage of those vital security measures. They don’t cost any money, only some serious time and thought. But better safe than sorry.