So many bizarre and unsettling things are happening out there that it’s understandable if someone starts going crazy. That said, let me tell you about the onset of my paranoia and why it’s been increasing.
It started – at least for me it started – shortly before Pesach. Like other frum people, I was actively involved in the get-everything-ready-for-Yom Tov rush. Usually I shred all mail that has even a hint of a financial or personal nature, but in those hectic days I just gathered everything, stuffed it into a shopping bag, and tossed it in the trash can. Admittedly, that was a mistake.
That mistake became obvious when I went out of my house the following morning and saw numerous pieces of paper strewn all over the street and gutter. On closer inspection I realized they weren’t just ordinary pieces of paper; it was the mail I had put into the trash can the night before. Clearly, someone had gone through my trash – and my mail.
It’s Not Okay
To the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing illegal about this. Once something is put out in the trash it’s hefker and free for anyone to take. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay if somebody takes it. Mail is like a checkbook: look it over, and in just a few minutes you will learn an incredible amount of information about a person. And why would anyone want to get hold of that information if not for nefarious purposes?
And these days there’s a whole lot of nefarious activity going on out there. Crooks, scammers, and other fraudsters have become very sophisticated and they know exactly how to gather information about a potential victim.
For example, the bar code on a letter from a bank or a credit card company looks completely harmless to most people, but in the hands of a determined and skilled crook it’s a key that could open the doors to a checking account, brokerage account, or retirement savings plan.
The label stapled to the bag holding prescription medicine is another item that doesn’t look especially important, but in fact it too has important details about your medical situation: your name, the name of the pharmacy you patronize, the day the prescription was filled, and the name and dosage of medication(s) you are taking. These too can be used for fraud or worse crimes.
Of course, tax-related materials, resumes, and pay stubs also have information that’s highly prized by thieves. Even receipts from ordinary credit card purchases have important financial information as well as your signature, which makes it easier to forge. Armed with these various pieces of information, crooks could commit credit card theft, fraud, or even ID theft.
Once a person has been victimized by these crimes, resolving them is no simple matter. Usually it is very aggravating and time consuming, and in some cases necessitates very expensive legal bills. These thefts can become life-changing problems.
And that’s why I became so upset when I recognized a credit card offer, a utility bill, and other pieces of mail that came in my mail in the week or two weeks before.
Questions, But No Answers
A lot of questions came to mind: Who had been searching through my mail? Was I the only one on my block who was being targeted? Why was I being targeted? How long has this been going on?
I resolved that going forward I would shred all my mail, no matter how unimportant it looked. No matter how busy I was. No matter how long it took. Then I decided not to worry about this and put it out of my mind.
But this decision lasted only a few days; then a neighbor informed me about the latest “news.” She saw two young men get out of a recent model car, look through my trash cans, and walk away with a bag – not mail, just ordinary garbage. Then, bag in hand, they got back into their car and drove off.
These incidents were going from strange to bizarre. I wondered whether this latest episode was somehow connected to the previous one. Were the guys who got out of the car supposed to make some kind of a “pickup” but got the address wrong? Why would anyone, even a criminal, want a discarded bag of garbage?
There’s more to this story. Over the past few weeks both my wife and I started getting strange calls on our cell phones – from area codes we have nothing to do with and don’t even recognize, as well as from people who did not speak when we answered their calls.
A week ago I got an email with the Yahoo logo with a warning in capital letters “DO NOT IGNORE.” I dismissed this as spam, an attempt to infect my computer with a virus, and started to delete it. Still, curiosity got the better of me, and I carefully moved the mouse over the email to see the address the email came from.
It was a nine-digit address, and the first eight characters were exactly the same as those of someone I’m in regular contact with – hardly something that could be dismissed as a coincidence. To my understanding, this meant that someone was keeping tabs on my emails, my friend’s, or both.
By the way, I never go to any crazy or extreme websites, and I also don’t open emails that look like they could be viruses.
Baruch Hashem, nothing terrible has happened because of these incidents. Nevertheless, my privacy was invaded; I have the feeling that I’m being watched and my emails read. All of this is unpleasant and has left me confused, angry, and suspicious. Can you blame me if I’m going slightly crazy?
By Gerald Harris
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