by Jim Harris

Welcome to the adventures of Jim Harris in the 21st century, Tonight’s episode: “Hacked!” The day began like every other. I jumped out of bed, stepped in cat vomit and hopped over to the bureau to get my cell phone, which had been charging all night. This time, though, I saw that the phone had not taken a charge.

After cursing (my first words of the day), I reckoned that it was probably time to replace my horribly outdated cell phone before it once again died and lost all my contact numbers. I logged on to my horribly outdated computer to make sure I had enough spare money in the bank to get a new phone. I scanned down to the bottom line and saw: “Available balance $0.00”

Alarms went off in my head. My heart rate tripled. Someone had used my card to make purchases from companies I had never heard of. How could this happen to ME? I’m just a poor little shlub! Not exactly Bill Gates! I went through the seven stages of grief in under a minute, then got to work finding the websites where the crooks had made purchases, so I could cancel them.

The first website was a company that made kitchen gadgets. I mean, what kind of criminal steals kitchen gadgets? Did Martha Stewart hack my account? As I perused the company’s website looking for a phone number, I noticed that they had cool stuff. I especially liked the Avocado Cuber, which “Cuts and scoops out neat, even cubes of avocado in seconds and reduces waste by using all of the avocado flesh.”

Suddenly remembering that time was of the essence, I phoned the company and jumped through several hoops, only to find out that I would have to call my bank in order to stop payment. Elapsed time, 35 minutes. Amount recovered, $0.00.

Just then, my cell phone died, so I ran downstairs, got a hammer and pounded the phone into a fine powder. It took some time, but it needed to be done. Luckily, I still had a “land line” phone, which runs on “wires” strung between “telephone poles.” I phoned the bank.

After plowing through a prerecorded labyrinth of options, I was prompted, in short order, to enter or speak my card number, pin number, security code, checking account number, street address, Social Security number, cell number and home number. Since my hands were by now shaking too much to reliably work the phone keypad, I spoke the numbers to the best of my knowledge. At one point, I kept mistakenly saying my security code when I was being asked for my pin number. After the third misstep, the robot told me to “Please hang up!”

Somehow, I eventually reached a human being. “Good morning,” he chirped.” How are you doing today?” “Well,” I said, “I’m calling the fraud hotline. How do you THINK I’m doing?” After pretending to commiserate, he re-asked me for all the aforementioned numbers and gave me the option of either” freezing” or “closing” my account. Even after he described the difference three times, I still didn’t understand it.

He told me that the bank would call me immediately if they noticed any more activity on my bank card. Since I now had no cell phone, that meant I couldn’t leave the house, but I had no money anyway, so what would be the point of going out? I felt like the old zebra who gets separated from the herd, depleted and out of touch, except that even old zebras can run 35 miles per hour, and I get winded walking to the mailbox.

To their credit, the bank folks got most of my money back, but I still have to update my account numbers with a laundry list of institutions and businesses, each of them with its own fire wall of red tape to wade through. It may take a while.

In conclusion, I now believe that when a hacking victim calls the bank for help, he or she is in no shape to be grilled by robots or customer service reps reading from scripts. Instead, the bank should send out a “Crisis Response Team” to administer to the distressed individual. This might include hot soup, valium, a psychotherapist, a spiritual advisor and most importantly, a bank employee who can speak reassuringly, in plain English, like so:

“Mister Harris, please, don’t cry. Look! I have a teddy bear. Teddy doesn’t want you to cry. He wants to help you get your money back. Just lie down. Let me tuck you in. When you awake, all of your problems will be solved. I promise.”

Lord knows there’s no shortage of Crisis Response Teams in America. Why not put them to good use when they’re not busy dealing with shooting rampages? At least one good thing came out of this whole experience. I solved all my holiday gift-giving problems. Avocado Cubers for everyone!