Who and why

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on August 22, 2014


A hacked card and unknown deliveries throw up troubling questions

“Hi! My name’s Sandy and I’m calling from …” My heart begins to race. It was my bank. They had noticed some “unusual activity” regarding my debit card. “Could you please visit the branch right away?”

I arrive 10 minutes later, breathless with anxiety.

Sandy is in his mid-thirties, portly and pink, with ice-blue eyes, short orange hair and a bristly moustache. He sits behind his desk, consulting his computer’s screen while I lean forward in my chair, tensed to hear the worst.

“Here we go,” he says, reading out the list of websites where I had apparently spent my money: Dinky Doodle. Senior Friendships Club. Gevalia Coffee. I look blank, shaking my head. iTunes. Dream Tours Unlimited. Sparky Marky.

“iTunes, yes,” I say, but none of the others. “Wh-what does it mean?” Guillotine? Firing squad? Guantanamo?

“Well, we blocked your card right after talking to you. So they can’t use it anymore.”

“Who are ‘they’?” I want to know. “And how did they get access to my card?” I’m extremely cagey about personal information. I don’t memorise my passwords, for instance, in case I mumble them in my sleep, on international flights. Instead I write them down in code on bits of paper. Then I forget which code I used for what password and have to start all over again.

Sandy shrugs. “We’ll probably never find out.” He taps his computer’s screen. “These guys typically start with small purchases to see whether the transaction goes through. If it does, they’ll try bigger purchases. $50, $60. They have no idea what’s in the account. They just keep fishing to see how far they can go before they get stopped.”

Without a physical card, they could only make purchases online. But they couldn’t have stuff shipped to their address without revealing their own identity. So it made no sense. What was in it for them?

“I can’t tell you that,” says Sandy. “But they’ve only used about $500 worth — ” I stopped breathing “–– and you are insured against theft. Once we confirm that these purchases weren’t made by you, the money will be reimbursed.”

O Golden Words! O Blessed Relief! I smile all the way back to my apartment building. But when I enter the hallway, I find a carton containing 20 pounds of Gevalia coffee in front of my door. Over the next few days, I continue to get deliveries via FedEx of gourmet coffee totalling $300 worth. Plus calls from the Lonely Grey Hearts Club, Exclusive Home Security Network and Happy Hunters Travel Agency all struggling to pronounce my long last name, all wanting to offer me free and exclusive privileges.

It is mystifying. I return the coffee and all charges to my account are reversed. For a while I feel invisible eyes on me, tracking my every online move. I flinch every time the phone rings. I constantly monitor my bank account, searching for “irregularities”. Eventually I stop looking over my shoulder but the questions remain: who and why? I won’t ever know.

(MANJULA PADMANABHAN, author and artist, tells us tales of her parallel life in Elsewhere,USA, in this fortnightly series

Published on March 21, 2014

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