For a parent, the rituals of their child’s march toward adulthood can be sweet or bitter, planned or surprising. There are the mushrooming of graduations, with “Pomp and Circumstance”-serenaded toddlers celebrating the completion of nursery school by receiving their first iPhones. There is the legal right to use online platforms like Facebook and Instagram that comes at 13, just as young people are becoming mature enough to cause and experience emotional pain.
There are the bat mitzvahs and quinceaneras and First Communions and first summer camps and first dorm rooms.
And then there was the first my 19-year-old Beloved Sapling celebrated Tuesday when she had her bank account pilfered and robbed by internet bandits.
To the certainty of death and taxes in our lives we can add identity theft: I do not know an adult who has not had his or her debit or credit cards pillaged, and not had to spend hours on the phone or internet trying to correct it.
This bank, so quick to decline a purchase whenever I do anything suspicious like gassing up the car more than 11 miles from the house or buying a miter saw at Lowe’s (“Sir, according to our records you cannot safely operate power tools!”), saw nothing amiss about $1,500 in Venmo charges from a kid who has never sent anyone more than $7. And charges to internet companies with names like TYGHFY.com and BHYGYU.net? Sounds legit to this bank!
But the theft isn’t even the worst part, because the banks generally give you your money back. The worst was her having to call the bank, cancel the card and identify the fraudulent charges.
My daughter’s bank makes it harder for customers to get in touch with a human employee by phone than it does for people to steal their customers’ money by computer.
If this sounds like it’s turning into a rant against technology, it mostly isn’t. It certainly could be, because while it’s true my daughter could have just as easily been robbed in 1863, she at least would not have had to spend two hours with a telegraph operator trying to remember the answer to her third security question.
Technology is not the problem with the modern world, it’s just the amplifier. The problem is and has always been the horrible people, ruining everything for everyone. But it is amazing how much easier the technology makes it to make everything awful, and when I think of my daughter living through a lifetime of it, my heart quails.
In the old days, to steal her money, thieves would have had to physically rob her, which is risky, or engage in some elaborate con, which would at least have panache.
In the old days, an insult to her would have been momentary, heard only by those nearby and soon forgotten. Today, a social media gibe is infinite in reach, and eternal.
In the old days, political conspiracy was peddled by crusty guys in supermarket parking lots waving badly mimeographed screeds. Today, superb deepfakes and hideous theories are circulated on websites, operated by Nazis and bigots and trolls and religious fanatics, that look better and run smoother than those of TV networks and newspapers.
There are not fewer good people now than before, or more bad ones. But technology is so much more powerful in enabling disrupters and thieves and misanthropes than it is at stopping them.
And that’s a hopeless thought to share with a 19-year-old girl who has had her identity stolen for the first time, and knows with grim certainty that it will not be the last.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.