Who needs to know?


I'm feeling very dumb, having just been chewed out by a support person at the other end of the "contact us" phone number of an online inmate banking service. I was trying to deposit money into an inmate's account, and had hit a glitch. With all the sophistication in "identity theft" these days, I know my savvy is lagging---so that when the voice on the other end of the line asked for my password (I had cheerfully given my account number), I momentarily balked.

The rep jumped on my hesitation and said with impatience that she cannot help me unless I give her my password. (What's next? My favorite pet's name? My grandmother's maiden name?) The experts say we should dispense with our personal information only on a "need to know" basis, but I'm never sure what they "need to know."

I stammered an end run around the inquiry, hoping to describe enough of my impasse to solve the problem without resorting to divulging the carefully concocted combination of letters and numbers that I use all over the cyber world.

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It's possible that I'm a little paranoid about all things related to prisons. In 2007 I forked over hundreds of dollars to a phone company that has near monopoly of contracts with prisons, charging $20 per 15-minute call. Also, I happen to know of an ongoing scam in a Michigan prison that recently phased out the sale of tobacco: A corrections officer has set up an outside post office box and is making a little cottage industry for himself with his inmate customers.

Come to think of it, I wonder what keeps the friendly bank teller at my local bank from stealing my Social Security number. The honor system?

Anyway, I never did give the lady my password. I'll just run off to the post office now and send a money order the old fashioned way. See you later.

To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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