Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Keeping me safe

Some people would, I suppose, say that I have been lucky to have had my credit cards misused on only two occasions (so far). The first occasion could have been embarrassing but wasn't. It happened one Easter when the Old Bat and I were staying on their farm with my cousin and her husband. We had taken our hosts out for a meal and when I went to pay the bill there was a slight problem. May card was declined with the request that the merchant phone the credit card company. I was distinctly puzzled as I knew full well I was nowhere near my limit on the card. That has been set at a ridiculously high figure, high enough for me to use my card to buy a car - or even two small cars! I never get anywhere near it so I knew the problem that evening could not have anything to do with that. The phone was passed to me and I satisfied the credit card company that I was the person named on the card. The transaction was authorised but I was asked to contact a different department as soon as possible. Back at the farm, I phoned the number I had been given and I was asked about one particular transaction which had, I gathered, taken place on the internet. As the card company suspected, this had nothing to do with me. They didn't tell me what aroused their suspicions but they immediately blocked my card and I received a replacement a few days later.

The second time this happened I spotted four entries that had nothing to do with me when I went online to check something. Three of the entries were debits while the fourth was a refund of one of the debits. I immediately rang the credit card company and the reversed the three debits straight away and blocked any further transactions on that card. (Despite my pointing it out, they never did take back the credit entry so I ended up about £90 better off.)

I am one of those people who uses a credit card for nearly all my purchases and to be without one even for a few days could cause considerable inconvenience. It is because of that that I have a second credit card. I have considered keeping one for purchases over the internet and the other for things like supermarkets and restaurants but somehow I have never got round to putting this into practice. I also have three debit cards, one for each of my two English bank accounts and one for my French account. This does lead to a numerical headache as, of course, each card has a different PIN. Fortunately, each PIN is reasonably easy for me to remember for one reason or another but I have devised a way of keeping a note of each of them in a form of code, a code which is not obviously a code, although I don't keep this list in my wallet with the cards.

This question of PINs and passwords is becoming ever more difficult to resolve. I would find it difficult to even guess at how many different web sites require me to enter a password - banks, building society, credit cards, blogs, on-line stores and so on. We are told we should use a different password for each, but how I could ever remember, say, 24 passwords is open to question. Then I would have to remember which password goes with which web site - and remember to change each password every few months. I do use more than one password and I can generally remember which password goes with which site but I haven't yet done what a friend tells me he does. He uses a different password for each site - but he keeps a spreadsheet detailing all of them. Admittedly, that spreadsheet is also password protected but it still seems a bit dangerous to me.

I heard of another idea recently which I might one day adapt and bring into use. This involves thinking of a password of eight characters rather than the more usual ten then, for each web site, put the first letter of the name in front of the basic password and the second at the back. For example, if the basic password was 12345678 and the web site was Blogger, the full password would become B12345678L. There are, of course, a number of ways that could be adapted and I rather like the idea. The challenge is to remember, while gradually changing over to using this system, which sites have the new password and which the old. Still, that's a challenge easy enough to surmount.

What I have yet to crack is the problem of remembering the answers to some of the security questions. OK, my mother's maiden name is easy enough to remember (and easy enough for half the world to find out) but a "memorable place"? What should I choose? And when, four or five years later, I am asked what it is, will I remember?

Life must have been a lot easier when people were paid in cash every week and they just walked down the road to the parade of shops which sold everything one needed, but somehow I don't think we could go back to that style of living.

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