Account Theft: The Worst That Could Happen Wasn’t Much

by Bill Brenner on April 29, 2014

Because I’m a security writer by profession, one of my biggest fears is that online thieves will suck my bank account dry. I’ve seen it happen to friends and family, and I know how violated they felt. I’ve written too many articles about people I don’t know being victimized.

So when it finally happened to me, I was surprised by my muted, almost calm response.

Mood music:

When I signed in to the family account, I was perplexed to find a few hundred dollars less than I had budgeted. The second I called up the account activity, I knew.

Six transactions in a row, all from the same morning, for $50 apiece, going to Steampowered.com, a well-known entertainment and gaming site. No one in this house uses it, so it instantly raised my suspicion. A few years ago, before learning to cope with my demons, my response would have been panic and rage. I would have visions of the family living on the streets, destitute, with nowhere to go. I would entertain the idea of hunting down the thief and plunging a knife into their chest a few hundred times, and I’d be unable to focus on anything else.

Of course, I’d never actually attack someone that way, and family and friends would keep us off the streets if it really came to that, which it wouldn’t have.

But when the obsessed mind spins beyond control, the victim views all the worst-case scenarios as reality.

Here’s what actually happened:

  1. When I saw the suspicious activity, I called the bank.
  2. The bank immediately canceled my card and arranged to send me a new one.
  3. I went to the bank and went over the last month’s transactions with them in an effort to trace the point when someone successfully penetrated the account. I signed paperwork to get my stolen funds restored.

Within 20 minutes, I had done what was needed and went on with life.

I’m not perfect, by any means. I still entertained the idea of finding the thief and turning the tables. I still cussed up a storm for being inconvenienced.

But I’m grateful for the ability not to go over the rails as my younger self would have.

In recent years, particularly in moments like this, I’ve developed a game called “What’s the worst that can happen?” I’ll picture a bad scenario and play out the absolute worst things that could happen from there. In the end, the answer is usually not much. For this incident, the worst-case scenario was that the account would run dry and all the scheduled bill payments would fail. Then I would have been running up the credit card for handle current expenses.

Those thoughts fizzled pretty quickly, though. I knew the bank would replace the missing funds and I knew I was fortunate to have the resources to keep paying for expenses.

I also knew that I wasn’t a special snowflake. People are robbed this way every day. It’s become a fact of life and banking protocols have changed in response.

The worst that could happen? Nothing really, save for the inconvenience of a trip to the bank.

Before online banking, we all had to do that anyway.

Computer keyboard with a shadowed hand hovering over it

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