Tuesday 3 November 2015


With the news last week that TalkTalk had suffered a cyber attack, there appeared on our TVs the usual crop of experts instructing us to use different passwords for each website, changing them all regularly.

Can’t help but think it’s all gone skewy. Wasn’t technology meant to make life easier for consumers? Those of us born before the arrival of the mobile phone have brains trained to remember phone numbers, but I fear for the generation that grew up with the microchip.

How are they supposed to remember which password goes with which site? Does this one require a capital letter at the beginning?

Why is the onus of security on us anyway? Don’t companies have a duty of care to their customers?

After screwing up in spectacularly different ways, both Volkswagen and Ulster Bank pledged that none of their customers would end up out of pocket.

Your company isn’t going to rob me? Could you make a more a vacuous assurance? It’s tantamount to the Fire Services promising not to burn down my house.

Corporate culture is exceptionally efficient when it comes to exploiting your personal details. Each time you log onto a website, hordes of cookies and bots are unleashed, recording your history and habits, which they then sell to the highest bidders.

If I were to write online about a 1957 Mustang Convertible, mere minutes later there’d appear at the side of my blog an advert for USA Vintage Car magazine.

When it comes to making a profit, global corporations spare no expense at finding the most efficient technologies. Shame they don’t apply the same effort to protecting us.

If you’re becoming paranoid about passwords and terrified of trolls, get a grip. Before the internet existed, anyone could find your name, address and phone number simply by picking up a telephone directory. 

You’d hand over your bank account details and signature each time you wrote a cheque, and leave a copy of your signature and credit card number on the slidy zip-zap machine whenever you purchased something.

I refuse to believe that people have become less trustworthy since then, any more than companies feel concerned for their customers’ welfare.

If somebody really wants to rob me, they‘ll most probably succeed. While I’ll make try to make their job as difficult as possible, I fear no more now than I ever used to.

However, in true Halloween style, I recently managed to spook myself out, by accidentally creating my own cyber shadow.

A few years back I went through a right old hooh-haah with Hertz. After finally fixing the problem, they made me a Gold Club member, by way of compensation.

So now, while sitting in the Departure Lounge of Shannon Airport, 
I receive an email from Hertz telling me the make, colour and reg of my car and which bay it’s parked in at Heathrow. Upon arrival, my car has the keys in it and I drive away. No paperwork, no queues: bloomin’ lovely.

However I somehow became hooked into a stupid Möbius Strip behaviour loop, whereby after booking a rental car I’d tell myself that next time, I must sign up for the Reward Points scheme, because having made the booking it was too late.

Eventually I remembered, filled out pages of online forms and ended up with what I thought was merely a loyalty program membership.

How wrong I was. The trouble started when the booking confirmation told me to go to the Standard very un-Gold Counter to activate my membership. Due to arrive in London on a Friday at 19:00, the last thing I wanted was to join a massive queue.

There then ensued a lengthy round of phone calls to Ken and Mary in different Hertz UK departments. Considering the fault turned out to be mine, Hertz performed incredibly well. Apparently I’d been hooked into their loyalty scheme ever since they made me a Gold member, and already have enough points for a weekend rental. 

Lovely jubbly.

What I’d done was somehow create myself a brand new Gold member profile, with a different number. Ken and/or Mary cancelled the initial booking, re-booked me another car that turned out to be cheaper than the first, and sent an email to Hertz Ireland, where Penny promptly emailed me to say that the payment for the first booking had been refunded to my credit card. The car was ready and waiting as normal.

Well done Hertz and silly old me. So what’s the point of the story?

Has this colyoom at last become the haven of happy days, hugs and hoorays?

Not exactly. In cyberspace we can join social networks as avatars under pseudonyms and invite people to parties on far-off supernovae that might prove tricky to attend.

All I had done was create a new member of Hertz Gold Club, using exactly the same name, address and personal details that appear on my existent account, but it made me wonder about cyber crime’s first cousin: identity theft.

A rare enough phenomenon in the West of Ireland, in the United States identity theft regularly destroys lives, as overnight somebody else has control of your bank account and credit cards. Domestic paper shredders are big business in America.

Meanwhile back in my tiny sphere of existential angst, I’m not sure who I might be. Had they not cancelled the new membership I’d accidentally created, I could have walked up to a Hertz desk and been either one of two people.

Who was going to drive that car?

Or me?

It’s spooky enough having my own cyber shadow, without worrying about how easy it was to create another me.

If this cyber-idiot can do it, then what’s going to stop somebody else?

Well, hopefully there’s something of a financial firewall protecting me.

If I was going to the trouble of trying to steal another’s identity, I’m pretty sure I’d aim for somebody with enough dosh in their account to make the risk worthwhile!

©Charlie Adley

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