Joe Lavin

January 2, 2007

Just Answer These Questions, and Nobody Will Get Hurt

With all the worries about identity theft, I'm starting to feel as if I have to steal my own identity every time I want to do online banking. Not only do I have to remember my password, I now have to remember the answers to all sorts of personal security questions too.

For example, my credit card company has just asked me to create three security questions. It didn't seem so bad at first, except that you have to choose one of the questions they come up with. For each of the three questions, I got to choose from one of seven pre-selected questions. I don't know who came up with all of them, but for most I couldn't even think of an answer.

Their security questions include:

"What's your favorite flower?" Um, let me get back to you on that. For some reason, I have this image of thousands of men yelling to their wife, "Honey, what's my favorite flower again?" when they want to check their balance online.

"What's your oldest sibling's nickname?" Sorry, I'm an only child, so I'm unable to answer this. I also can't tell you my youngest sibling's nickname either.

"What was the name of a pet you had when you were a child?" Um, actually, I didn't have a pet growing up.

"What's your favorite movie?" You know, this tends to change every time I log in. I ended up using this question, and I had to save my answer in a Word document, so that I could remember exactly what my favorite movie was on the last Wednesday of 2006.

"What was your strangest job?" I don't know. Was it postal worker? Was it mailing out condoms for the LA Family Planning Council? Or was it my brief stint as Secretary of Commerce during the Carter Administration? It's really too close to call.

"What's your wedding anniversary?" I'm sure husbands will have a great time with this question. Now, if they can't remember their wedding anniversary, they're stuck in the dog house with their wife, and they can't use their bank account. I suspect there are many wives who don't see a problem with this.

"Where did you have your honeymoon?" Sorry, I'm not married, and, you know, all their questions about marriage and children and pets are really starting to make me feel like a loser. The other companies are starting to look pretty good right about now.

Basically, all this means that instead of saving all your passwords to a file on your computer, you'll now have to add the answers to all your security questions to the same file. Word of advice: try not to name it "Passwords, PINs, and Answers to All My Security Questions.doc"

Frankly, this all seems like one of those questionnaires that periodically go around the Internet -- you know, the ones that ask you to answer 20 questions and send it onto five friends, as well as the person who sent it to you. Beware if you get one of those that looks like this:

"What's your favorite color? What are the last four numbers of your social security number? What street did you grow up on? What's your mother's maiden name? What was your first car? What are the first five numbers of your social security number? Where were you born?"

Either that or the identity thieves will just create their own special web sites: "Find out your secret agent nickname just by entering your mother's maiden name, social security number, and home mailing address!"

Admittedly, this is progress. I always wondered why the height of banking security has always been based on your mother's maiden name. That's information that can easily be looked up by anyone. Bill Gates even had Harvard name a building after his mother.

I can understand the need for these security questions, though it would be nice if we could create our own. Wouldn't it be better if people could answer questions like:

"Who hit the home run ball you caught when you were nine?"

"Where did you hide your dirty magazines when you were a teenager?"

"What was that thing your best friend said to that girl the night you were all drunk in New York City?"

Luckily, I don't have to worry about these questions anymore. That's because I have come up with a secret identity for my credit card. You see, my oldest brother's nickname was Scooter, my honeymoon was in Zurich, and my favorite flower is the Chrysanthemum. If you ask me, banking is always a lot more fun when you're doing it with a secret identity.

©2007 Joe Lavin

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