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My Turn: Password, pin number, security question — A tech odyssey

As an octogenarian, I pride myself on being up to date on things, and ready and able to learn and to adapt. I have been especially fortunate in having access to two very bright, young grandchildren who have patiently brought me into the world of electronics, leading me step by step into the internet, adding electronic phones and other devices incrementally to my repertoire of 21st century appliances.

Though I have become adept at their use, there are times when I feel frustrated by the literal precision which is required in order to access them. Different recipients require passwords with different combinations of numbers, letters, tenses, etc., so I have amassed a collection of passwords. I have been warned not to keep a list of them for fear that it might be stolen. As I accumulate more and more passwords, it has become a challenge for me to keep them straight, fearful each time I use one of them that I might give the wrong password.

Just recently, I wanted to obtain some information online from my credit card company. I tried to sign in and, as I have so often worried, I gave them a password that was not for that account. I had a chance to correct it, but, unfortunately, I was incorrect again. Strike two! I foolishly tried for a third time, and you guessed it. Just as in baseball, strike three, and you’re out. Yes, I struck out. So not only did I not find the information for which I was searching, I couldn’t even get access to seek it unless I went through a complicated process.

So I returned to my comfort zone, a place where I could communicate with another person: I called my company on the telephone. After I punched in my member number, I was told by an electronic voice that I was calling from a number in my profile. “Aha!” I thought. “No problem here.” They already know who I am. After waiting a while, during which time I was subject to a number of commercials and apologies for having to wait, and assurances that they really wished to speak to me as my call was very important, a real person came onto the line. She asked for my pin number, which I keep posted near my telephone. Next came a security question. I answered incorrectly. I should have known that James is not Jim. Unfortunately, that was my roommate’s name, either/or, and I picked the either in stead of the or. I straightened that out with the person on the other end of the line and I thought I was ready to go. Wrong again! She had another security question. This time I handled it with aplomb, It had been 20 minutes since I started this adventure, and we were finally getting to the heart of the matter.

“How can I help you?” she asked. I told her my problem, and gave her the number of the credit card about which I was trying to inquire. Her response to me was that she sees that someone was trying to get to my account just a few minutes ago, and that it was frozen now by Security. To my chagrin, she was totally unmoved when I pleaded with her that it was I who was trying to get into my account, and because of all of the problems which I encountered I was calling now. She insisted that I would have to speak with Security to unfreeze it and I should have my password handy and be ready to answer more security questions after which I could get back to her when Security had cleared my account.

After 40 minutes of a journey filled with varied emotions, I finally accessed my account. I can’t believe it, but I thanked them for protecting my privacy.

Mark Smoller,


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